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Dublin: 16 °C Wednesday 21 August, 2019
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Leinster bounce back from 'lowest point in all of our careers' to win Pro14

Johnny Sexton and his team took pride from how they eked out a victory against Glasgow.

Murray Kinsella reports from Glasgow

FROM DEVASTATION TO delight.

Last night’s Guinness Pro14 title, the province’s sixth, won’t completely extinguish the memories of Leinster’s defeat in the Champions Cup final to Saracens a fortnight ago, but it did mean they ended their 2018/19 season with a trophy.

James Lowe and Jack Conan celebrate Jack Conan kisses James Lowe. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There were nice scenes after the 18-15 win over Glasgow Warriors at Celtic Park as the departing Sean O’Brien lifted the trophy on his own and, after a real battle in the rain, there was a contended sense of satisfaction for Leo Cullen’s team.

They know better than anyone that this was not their most comprehensive performance, but they also know better than anyone about what is required to win finals.

That’s what made the heartbreak in Newcastle against Saracens so severe – it was the first time Leinster had tasted defeat in a Champions Cup final after four previous successes in the decider.

So to rebound strongly in the last two weeks, accounting for Munster in the semi-finals and showing their controlling class against Glasgow yesterday, was all the more pleasing.

“I’m very proud of the lads that we bounced back after probably the lowest point in all of our careers really, in terms of losing a European Cup final,” said captain Johnny Sexton post-match.

Head coach Cullen, sitting alongside Sexton, said the final “wasn’t the prettiest of games” but it was certainly high on entertainment, with yellow cards, non-yellow cards, four tries and no shortage of physical effort – James Ryan and Rhys Ruddock making 25 tackles each among the highlights in that regard.

“We had some chances early on, didn’t quite finish them,” said Cullen. “Glasgow came into the game and were very strong. From 7-0 down, it was a big moment: we hit back straight away, then we had a period when we were in the ascendancy.

Luke McGrath celebrates with teammates after winning the Guinness PRO14 Final Luke McGrath celebrates. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We were able to manage that period quite well and with the conditions the way they were it was going to be hard chasing the game. For most of the second half, I thought we played the territory game pretty well.”

Garry Ringrose’s first-half try only minutes after Matt Fagerson had opened the scoring for Glasgow was indeed an important moment, the centre given a straightforward finish after Luke McGrath did superbly to block down Stuart Hogg’s clearance attempt.

Man of the match Cian Healy bagged Leinster’s second try before the break, helping to leave the Irish province 15-10 to the good at half-time, although they required some outstanding defence in the final minutes of the half, ending with Jordan Larmour tackling DTH van der Merwe into touch.

“It was a huge play,” said Sexton. “You know, we conceded on that side of the pitch against Sarries just before half-time, and Jordan will say himself that he could have dealt with that situation better if he had it back again.

“But we’d all do things differently in the Sarries game if we could have it back again. And he learnt his lessons and came up with a huge play.”

Leinster scored only three points after the break and raised many eyebrows when opting not to kick an easy penalty to open their lead up to 21-10 after Kyle Steyn was sin-binned for not rolling away from a tackle on James Lowe.

“We went for a bold play,” explained Sexton. “We went for the scrum when they were down to 14 and halfway through that period, they got back to 15 and we were stubborn to keep going.

James Ryan celebrates at the final whistle James Ryan greets the final whistle. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We thought that we could get in on the left, the way they were set up defensively, but we weren’t ruthless enough in that moment. But in those conditions, eight points is still a good lead and we were able to wear the game down for another 10 minutes in and around that area.”

While replacement hooker Grant Stewart crossed to score a Glasgow try while Rob Kearney was in the sin bin late on, having avoided a red card, Leinster were able to see out their victory by forcing a Warriors knock-on and then running the clock down.

O’Brien was soon raising the trophy to kick-start the celebrations, dampening some of that dejection from Newcastle.

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Murray Kinsella

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