By: Grant Fisken
At the 14th attempt Glasgow Warriors became the first Scottish team to win the Pro12 (including Celtic League), after a convincing 31-13 victory against Munster in the final on Saturday. As captain Al Kellock lifted the trophy in his final match before retiring, it signalled the end of Scotland’s barren run that had seen the championship go to Ireland eight times and Wales five in the first 13 years of the competition.
Glasgow arrived at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast looking to avenge the memories of almost exactly a year before, when they lost the final 34-12 against Leinster in Dublin. In that match they performed well for 40 minutes before fading in the second half. There was to be no repeat this year. First-half tries from Rob Harley, DTH van der Merwe and Henry Pyrgos had the Warriors in command at the break, leading 21-10 after Andrew Smith crossed the line late in the half for Munster.
A penalty by Ian Keatley early in the second period reduced the deficit to eight points, but it was as close as Munster would get to a comeback. Finn Russell scored Glasgow’s fourth try and by the time Duncan Weir kicked the final points of the match with six minutes remaining, the Scottish fans in the 17,057 crowd were already in celebratory mood. As referee Nigel Owens blew for full-time, Scottish rugby was back in the winner’s circle, a timely boost in a World Cup year.
Russell claimed 13 of Glasgow’s 31 points, but it was Leone Nakawara who was named man of the match. The Fijian was the catalyst for the Warriors building a commanding first-half lead, and on this form he may be one to watch out for in the World Cup. Nakawara was replaced by Kellock who was given the chance to enjoy his final 14 minutes of action before retirement, a fitting end to the career of the lock capped 56 times by his country.
Warriors coach Gregor Townsend was quick to pay tribute to his predecessor Sean Lineen for building the foundations of the team in his six-year spell in charge. The team’s progress has been gradual, as in the past four campaigns they have finished fourth, third, second and then first in the regular season table. However, Townsend will have his own rebuilding job for 2015/16. As well as Kellock and Dougie Hall retiring, DTH van der Merwe (Scarlets), Niko Matawulu (Bath), Sean Maitland (London Irish) and Jon Welsh (Newcastle) will also be leaving the club.
Another player moving on next season is Munster’s Paul O’Connell. The Pro12 final did not provide the fairytale ending Kellock enjoyed, but the Irish captain still has plenty more rugby left in him. Although he has announced he will retire from internationals after the World Cup, he is expected to move to European champions Toulon following the tournament.
The conclusion of the Pro12 season means all eyes in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy can focus on the World Cup, which begins on 18 September when England play Fiji at Twickenham.