Glasgow’s spirited performance in the Pro14 final left them just 3-points shy of toppling defending champions and European powerhouse Leinster in a gripping match decided by small margins.
After a furious start to the game, it was Leinster who made back-to-back errors to invite Glasgow to score first, which they did through a pick-and-go by Matt Fagerson. The Warriors then committed the first of two grave errors themselves, failing to exit after the kickoff on two occasions in the first half.
After the initial kickoff receipt following their try, Glasgow plays a phase back infield, despite already being in a position to get a decent clearance away.
Stuart Hogg (15) is already in the pocket behind the ruck in a position to clear, but perhaps not quite deep enough.
The two pillars at the ruck with the most direct lines to Hogg are Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier and both looking rather disinterested in charging.
So you have to ask what is the point of carrying one more phase before kicking in this situation. Is it to get a better touchline angle?
Every carry further infield from this position reduces the distance that can be achieved downfield on the clearing kick into touch. A kick of the same power needs to fly further horizontally to make it out of play the more you crab infield. Being 15-metres infield already gives you enough safety on the angle, any more starts to sacrifice distance.
Is it to set up a wider play on the next phase? Possibly, but Glasgow’s next setup suggests this was never an option. Each phase played in your 22 is a phase that could turn the ball over in the worst possible area of the field.
With a carry off 9 generating at best one to two extra metres downfield to work with, the worst case scenario significantly outweighs the best.
Glasgow plays a carry to the right that doesn’t make it back to the gain line, and are now showing no other looks for the defence other than the kick.
The open side setup is showing nothing, with flyhalf Adam Hastings stationary 5-metres behind the closest forward. On the left side, the protection for Hogg is limited and they are not posing as genuine ball-carrying options. A few players are flat with Price, perhaps indicating they were expecting a box kick.
Hogg himself is less than three metres infield from where he was the phase before. If this was to achieve a better angle on the kick, they have hardly got it.
Leinster knows now that this phase has a high likelihood of being the clearing kick off the boot of Hogg with a lack of other visible setups whilst halfback Ali Price is preparing for a pass off the right hand back to the left side.
Speedy halfback Luke McGrath, who has an even better path to the kicker than the phase before, finds his way all too easily to Hogg, charges him down and Garry Ringrose gets the lucky rebound for five easy points.
McGrath’s heads up effort play created the opportunity, but Glasgow’s less-than-urgent exits playing unnecessary phases put them in a box with an easier read to make the charge down. Execution in the same situation would come back to haunt them later in the half.
The play Hastings will want back
After conceding straight back to Leinster, Glasgow finds an opportunity to strike back after Leinster’s exit.
From a lineout, Glasgow centre Kyle Steyn shrugs off Ringrose and sparks a break down the left-hand edge, down to the five. After multiple pick and drives pushing play back in front of the posts, the home side has Leinster stretched and withered down to the far side, and also a penalty advantage – basically, a free play.
Before the phase, Hastings is lined up just on the outside of lock Scott Fardy (4). With numbers outside, if he is able to bounce out and draw the next man Jonathan Sexton (10), one of his men is going to be running free with an open line begging.
The pass from Price allows Hastings to get on the outside and draw interest from Sexton.
Unfortunately, this is one moment he would like to do over because a simple short pass to Sam Johnson (12) has a 99.9% chance of resulting in a try. Even Hogg out the back would be able to draw James Lowe and finish with Steyn (out of picture), and if Sexton slaps the ball down he will be yellow carded.
Instead, Hastings dummies and is tackled leaving an exasperated Johnson perplexed.
Glasgow fail to score and are awarded the penalty, taking the three points on offer. Had Johnson strolled over and made the conversion a gimme, that’s four extra points in a game they lost by three. This ball had to go wide and Hastings has no excuse for this decision to run with wide-open teammates.
Against a quality side like Leinster, opportunities are few and far between and these moments are difference makers.
Again after the kickoff receipt following the penalty to stretch the lead to 10-5, Glasgow plays the same carry infield coming onto the ball from deep.
Perhaps some re-positioning is required on this occasion, with a contestable box kick from Ali Price the only real exit kick from the original position 10-metres infield.
However, the risk of playing extra phases is about to hurt Glasgow as Cian Healy steals the ball at the breakdown, before knocking on.
Glasgow are let off the hook briefly before conceding a free kick on the scrum feed, Healy again the responsible party, giving Leinster possession just outside the 22. 17 phases later it’s that man Healy again, crashing over from short range to take the lead for Leinster 12-10, one they would never relinquish.
While Hastings may have left four points on the table at the other end, coughing up 12 on failed exits was the real killer. Although the pitch was immaculate, the driving rain changed the complexion of the game and always makes scoring points more difficult. As conditions deteriorated, those points became even harder to chase.
Leinster on the other hand frequently exited after the kickoff recipient was tackled, launching a box kick from McGrath as soon as they had some breathing room against the touchline, as little as 10-metres infield. Most of the time this was after zero phases. Unless you absolutely need to re-position, you are better off clearing the zone.
It doesn’t make the loss any easier knowing that they could have won it, but Glasgow will be left to rue some basic mistakes when exiting after kickoffs. After losing a Pro14 title by three points, it might be worth reviewing their exit strategies to decide if the risks they take in that area of the field are worth it.
The Academy with the Leicester Tigers – Part 6:
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