Belfast Telegraph

Sexton and Leinster enjoy some redemption

Glasgow 15 Leinster 18

Final push: Cian Healy touches down for a try
Final push: Cian Healy touches down for a try
Johnny Sexton holds the trophy aloft

By Ruaihdri O'Connor

Johnny Sexton didn't actually lift the first trophy of his Leinster captaincy, he handed that honour to the departing Sean O'Brien and continued a club tradition in doing so.

At times the out-half has looked burdened by his responsibility this season, but on the final day he and his team-mates delivered a performance that offered redemption of sorts.

A first Champions Cup final defeat two weeks ago might have rattled them, but they rallied nonetheless and their defiant victory in front of a hostile 47,198 crowd at Celtic Park was one to savour.

As Leo Cullen said, it wasn't the prettiest of wins, but the booing from the locals was a sweet sound of success. Sexton isn't loved in these parts, but that's a grudging nod of respect.

After a difficult Six Nations and a period where he appeared to be dealing with some inhibiting muscle issues, he can happily head off for his short summer break with a sense of achievement.

In a few weeks his focus will firmly be on Ireland and a career-defining World Cup. He won't be back in blue until November at the earliest, but he's happy to leave the club team in good stead.

"It keeps the Leinster momentum going. We've been to four finals in two seasons and won three. That's a really good return," he said of the victory in Glasgow.

"If you come away with two losses it looks completely different, you're going into next season empty-handed so, it does, it changes your summer holidays to an extent.

"We'll still take that hurt from the Sarries game with us I think. I hope we do anyway, because there is so much that we can learn from it and bring into next season."

The heavens opened on Saturday morning and the rain continued to fall long into the Glasgow night.

It utterly changed what might have been a classic encounter and always appeared to favour a Leinster team capable of beating teams in a number of ways.

Their big men took over; James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock and Cian Healy were dominant and Jack Conan was imperious once more.

Behind them, Sexton and Luke McGrath went to the boot early and often and kept their team in the right areas.

They wanted more reward than 18 points, but it was three points more than a doughty Glasgow side and that's all that mattered.

Two weeks ago McGrath was heavily criticised for not kicking the ball off the park before half-time, but here his refusal to give up a lost cause led to Garry Ringrose's try. He blocked Stuart Hogg's clearance kick and the ball fell kindly to the centre, who cancelled out Matt Fagerson's try.

Leinster were more accurate and better disciplined and, in the minutes after Scotland hooker Fraser Brown was stretchered off, they went for the jugular and got their reward through Healy's powerful carry.

Sexton kept the scoreboard ticking after Kyle Steyn was sin-binned for a cynical play, but they couldn't make their advantage count and almost rued the decision not to take points under the posts when Grant Stewart raced in at the right corner.

At that stage Rob Kearney was off the pitch, but he returned due to the leniency of Nigel Owens to help see his side home in a taut final passage.

Sexton was pleased his team had learnt their lessons of Newcastle.

"When the weather came in it was about who adapted the best," he explained.

"It wasn't perfect, there was lots of things that we could have done better, but one of the things we said after the Sarries game was 'we don't have to win every moment, we just have to win more than the opposition'."

"I thought that's what we did today, we won a couple more moments than them.

"They're an outstanding team and it is a pity the conditions came in, because we prepared all week to come in and give it a real rattle with ball-in-hand and they did as well. It would have been an even better spectacle.

"Against Sarries I probably felt I found myself in a lot of rucks and collisions when we had the ball, which doesn't normally happen. I wasn't able to control things."

He added: "We wanted to learn from that, you still get smacked, there are still moments where we could have capitalised on some opportunities."

The spectacle isn't their concern. Just as they did in Bilbao last year against Racing, they won a tight one in the rain. And now, finally, the World Cup looms into view.

"Japan has been at the back of everyone's minds for ages, it's very hard not to think about it," Sexton conceded.

"We'll enjoy this tonight and tomorrow, we've our 10-year (Heineken Cup) reunion.

"Then I'll take a rest and try and stay in as good shape as possible to come back into pre-season which is going to be a big five, six months for the whole country really."

GLASGOW WARRIORS: S Hogg; T Seymour, K Steyn, S Johnson (P Horne 56), DTH van der Merwe; A Hastings, A Price; J Bhatti (O Kebble 69), F Brown (G Stewart 26), Z Fagerson (S Halanukonuka 69); S Cummings, J Gray; R Harley, C Gibbins (capt), M Fagerson.

LEINSTER: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (R Byrne 74), L McGrath (N McCarthy 77); C Healy (E Byrne 63), S Cronin (B Byrne 64), T Furlong (A Porter 64); S Fardy, J Ryan; R Ruddock (R Molony 79), J van der Flier (M Deegan 74), J Conan.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

Attendance: 47,128

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph