Where the Guinness PRO14 Final was won

Paul Eddison
31 May 2019

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Three points were all that separated the two best teams in the Guinness PRO14 when the final whistle blew at Celtic Park as Leinster retained their title.

Glasgow Warriors pushed the defending champions all the way, eventually falling just short, going down 18-15 in the damp conditions on Saturday.

A closer look at the stats tells the story of how the two teams approached the games, and the decisive aspects in the game.

LEINSTER KICKING GAME

The early minutes saw Glasgow in charge, and largely because of the kicking game of Stuart Hogg and Adam Hastings, which allowed the Scots to dominate territory.

And yet that was not the tale of the game as a whole, as Leinster were able to put the Glasgow back three under real pressure with the box-kicking of Luke McGrath.

 

It is telling that the Leinster scrum-half kicked the ball more (13 times) than Hastings and Hogg combined (6 each). No one kicked more ball than McGrath, while in contrast, Ali Price put boot to ball just once all match.

In fact Hastings and Hogg were the only Warriors to kick the ball more than once at Celtic Park, a clear indication of Glasgow’s desire to keep ball in hand.

Considering the rain and greasy conditions though, it may be that Leinster’s greater focus on playing for territory, and kicking to try to recover the ball from nine, was the right approach.

EXPANSIVE WARRIORS

With Leinster kicking the ball far more than their Scottish counterparts, it makes sense that Glasgow passed more on the day.

Still, the difference in number of passes made by both teams is striking. Glasgow made almost double the number of passes (190) that Leinster (97) did, clearly showing a desire to get the ball wide as often as possible.

That was not reflected in the offloads, with each team making five, but Glasgow continued to put width on the ball throughout.

Playing an expansive game has been Glasgow’s style all year, and while breaking down the Leinster defence was difficult, they did have some joy with nine clean breaks over the course of the game.

CONTRASTING DEFENCE

With the Warriors playing a wider game, that unsurprisingly led to Leinster missing more one-on-one tackles – 25 in total.

By contrast, Glasgow missed just ten over the course of the 80 minutes, led as ever by their indefatigable pack, Jonny Gray making all 25 of his tackles, Matt Fagerson missing one but making 27.

Skipper Callum Gibbins was another to top 20 tackles finishing with 21 for just one missed.

Given the way the Glasgow pack missed just four tackles all game; you might think that they had dominated from a defensive perspective.

But that is in some ways a reflection of the way Leinster played. They kept the ball tight, and while many of those tackles were made, Leinster were able to keep possession and go through the phases.

That was never more obvious than when Cian Healy crossed for a try, with the Irish side having worked their way up to the line through their forwards before the prop powered through the tackle of Rob Harley to dot down.

Glasgow were dangerous when they spread the ball wide, but the Leinster scramble defence and the odd wrong decision from the backs, meant they could not always capitalize. 

INCISIVENESS OF LEINSTER BACKS

While Leinster’s three-quarters missed more tackles than their Glasgow counterparts, they also proved more impactful with ball in hand.

Garry Ringrose, in particular, was a threat every time he touched the ball, making an average of 8.22 metres per carry.

The only player close to that was James Lowe, the Leinster winger who made 7.33 metres per carry, finishing as the top metre-maker in the game.

By contrast, the Warriors three-quarters were kept largely in check, with no player even topping 50 metres with ball in hand.

WARRIORS YOUTH MOVEMENT

What should be pleasing for the Warriors is a look at their forwards and two men in particular.

Matt Fagerson and Cummings were very active in defence, but it was also clear that they made an impact in their carrying.

Cummings averaged a couple of metres on every carry, an impressive result for a man who was often carrying in heavy traffic.

Fagerson’s 1.25 metres per carry was also at the higher end on the day and it was no coincidence that Dave Rennie name-checked the pair after the match.

A word also for Grant Stewart, called into action early following Fraser Brown’s injury.

The 24-year-old made his Glasgow debut against Leinster in Europe last season, and after a shaky start with an overthrown lineout, he made his presence felt.

Beyond his try, there was one outrageous step in the midfield, and making 3.67 metres per carry on nine carries is a fine return.

SCRUM DOMINANCE

Considering the margins on which the game was won and lost, it is fair to say that Leinster’s scrum was probably the decisive weapon.

In total Leinster conceded four penalties, meanwhile Glasgow Warriors conceded four penalties at scrum-time alone.
Those figures are slightly distorted by the period on the Glasgow line before the hour-mark. Leinster kept turning the screw but came away with no points after a McGrath knock-on.

Still, it kept Leinster in Glasgow territory for a long period, and it was also thanks to their scrum and a penalty that they were able to clear their lines shortly after Rob Kearney’s yellow card.

Healy was named man of the match for a great all-round performance, but the scrum may have been the area where they definitely sealed the title.

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