Though we remain unbeaten since September 17, one streak did come to an end last Saturday.
I had been able to watch every second of Leinster rugby live either broadcast or in person this season so far - just couldn't make it home from the Aviva/family stuff in time so the DVR had to be deployed. Looks like it would have happened anyway this coming Friday as no broadcaster seems willing to show their trip to Aironi.
But having seen so much of the boys in blue this season, I feel like I'm in a good position to outline what exactly is required to topple them. For me, it comes down to two things (1) take full advantage of their mistakes, and (2) be on top of your defensive game once you have the lead because they are guaranteed to come straight back at you.
Those points may sound incredibly obvious, but the fact remains that nobody has been able to do that for 19 matches now. And while Glasgow were good at the first one at Firhill, they were extremely poor at the second and as a result it cost them two Pro12 points they may well rue in the final shakeup.
That the score remained 0-0 for 27 minutes wasn't totally down to the atrocious conditions...the two sides asked questions of each other but for the most part answers were found.
First off, having already gushed today over one Leinster outhalf,I must continue for another. Ian Madigan had a fine outing in Glasgow, and it was a shame he had only the two points on the scoreboard to show for it.
And what made it a success was something I have slated him for in the past – his kicking from hand. I counted ten occasions where he achieved a positive result and he saved the best till last...an improbably improvised punt from behind his own line in the final minutes which somehow found touch outside the 22.
On the downside, there was Dominic Ryan. Great to see him back in the starting lineup, but although he got a few key tackles in also gave away needless penalties which could have cost us dear. One where he lost his bearings off a maul led to Glasgow breaking the deadlock while another at the start of the third quarter could have put the home side out of reach. Luckily that resulting penalty saw Jackson kick to the same posts where both Madigan and Nacewa had problems in the first half and it too fell short.
But it wasn't penalties that settled this match, rather it was the two tries. Like I said, to beat us you have to make the most of our mistakes, and when Devin Toner knocked down his own throw at a lineout to nobody, Ryan Harley was quickest to react and himself and his hooker Pat McArthur combined well to drive a stake into Leinster's heart.
Now...as for the awarding of the penalty try...was it correct? Absolutely. I don't actually blame Nacewa for the tackle he made. Ryan got in his way and Isa was so determined to get to the diving Glasgow player that he could only contort his body in such a way as to knock him out of bounds with his shoulder. Still, that's an illegal tackle and the full-back rightly went to the bin for it.
But here we come to the second part of my plan to beat Leinster. With a 10-0 lead and an extra man on the park, you'd expect a side in contention for the top 4 to at least keep the score the same for those ten minutes. Yet as it turned out it was our man Devin who proved to be a perfect (please forgive me) a-Toner for his earlier lineout blunder with a series of influential plays.
First, at midfield he collected the ball and charged straight ahead for a huge gain, knocking Ruaridh Jackson flat on his back with his thighbone in the process. I'll say it again, it has been great to see the big man adding such aggression to his game this year.
Next, he made good at the lineout by wrecking a Glasgow four-man effort in their own 22 which got us back the ball and on the front foot. That possession got us to the line where he eventually helped Heinke van der Merwe over from a few yards out and there we are back in the match.
Now, for a bit of rare criticism of the Leinster coaching setup. Just 10-7down, and the clock approaching the 60-minute mark, our front row asserted their authority at the scrum and forced an excellent turnover. The result? Another scrum. What do we do? Send out the hook for Nathan White and chuck in Jamie Hagan in his pristine Leinster kit. The result? Penalty to Glasgow.
I totally get the need for scheduled substitutions but there HAS to be leeway for the match situation, and that call was just plain wrong. Let the scrums play themselves out THEN chuck on Hagan if you must. The prop struggled for the rest of the match, in fact I think Irish ref John Lacy did us a favour when Glasgow had their 5m scrums on our line towards the end. Having already pinged Hagan once,Lacy chose to stand on the other side of the resulting scrum and thus“couldn't see” that Hagan's side went down again, which was straying into at least yellow card territory if not another penalty try.
But ironically it was Dominic Ryan's replacement Jordi Murphy who helped us into a position to equalise. He won the ball back from a Glasgow slip and a couple of phases later Brendan Macken wasn't released after a tackle and Isa gratefully took the chance to level things.
So as it turned out with Ulster narrowly turning over the Ospreys we actually moved a point further clear at the top with the gap now at eleven, although Munster should make full use of their game in hand to jump into second, making the big derby down in Thomond all the more spicy. Hopefully Tony McGahan and co won't read this post and end up being rewarded for following my suggestions! JLP
ALSO IN THIS ROUND
Scarlets 34-20 Treviso
Munster 16-13 Cardiff Blues
Ulster 15-14 Ospreys
Connacht 26-13 Edinburgh
Aironi 9-10 Newport GD