Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Champions Leinster can earn success for years to come

Glory boys: Leinster's Martin Moore and Mike Ross celebrate
Glory boys: Leinster's Martin Moore and Mike Ross celebrate

For only the second time in five years of play-offs at the end of the league season-proper, the PRO12 race ended with first beating second in the final to take the title.

Prior to this, only Munster – in 2011 – went on to be crowned champions having topped the table. On Saturday night Leinster joined them after beating Glasgow Warriors 34-12 in the RDS showdown.

No-one can begrudge the victors their achievement, nor can the Scots have any complaints; four tries to nil en route to a 34-12 triumph is emphatic.

This was Leinster's fifth successive appearance in the final and their third as table-toppers. But unlike 2010 and 2012 when as top seeds they fell at the last hurdle, this time they played like champions-proper.

Glasgow arrived having won each of their previous nine PRO12 fixtures, with Ulster and Munster – twice in Munster's case – among their victims in that impressive run. But, notably, that list did not include Leinster.

Indeed, it was Leinster who had inflicted Glasgow's last defeat prior to Saturday night's events –28-25 at the RDS on March 1.

Thirteen weeks on, Gregor Townsend's team's bid to avenge that came to nothing. They matched the defending champions for an hour, but in the last quarter were simply blown away.

Up until then Leinster had relied on their ability to counter, with first-half tries by Zane Kirchner and Shane Jennings, both converted by Jimmy Gopperth, their telling response to four penalties by Finn Russell.

But Glasgow failed to add a post-interval point. In contrast, Leinster posted 20 with Kirchner bagging his second try and Gordon D'Arcy the winners' fourth. Gopperth converted both as well as landing a brace of penalties for six from seven off the tee.

Leinster are worthy champions. They are model professionals – focused, disciplined, composed, assured, ruthless. They did not panic when, in the first half, Glasgow attacked at pace.

Instead, Leinster absorbed those jabs before countering with heavier punches.

Tellingly, Leinster did not allow the loss of Brian O'Driscoll to a knee injury eight minutes into his final match to distract them. Time enough for emotion and sentiment afterwards.

Ian Madigan deputised and the join was seamless. And later, with Glasgow on the ropes, Leinster were able to introduce players of the calibre of Marty Moore, Sean O'Brien and Leo Cullen to deliver the coup de grace. Awesome.

The post-match celebrations confirmed just how much Leinster enjoy winning. The match itself confirmed that they are likely to go on doing so.

Earlier on Saturday, Mark McCall's Saracens lost a final for the second time in seven days. Beaten by Toulon in the Heineken Cup final on May 24, they ended with an unwanted double by losing 24-20 after extra-time to Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership play-off at Twickenham.

In contrast, Toulon made it a winning double by beating Castres in Jonny Wilkinson's last game. He bowed out in style, kicking 15 of Toulon's points in their 18-10 victory in the Top14 final at the Stade de France.

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