With Niko Matawalu busy winning the ladies cup in Melrose today for the Glasgow Warriors sevens team, it was left to Chris Cusiter to lead the full team over to Thomond Park to face Munster.
Limerick’s cathedral of rugby was less busy than perhaps it has been during Heineken Cup weekends of late, and their team was perhaps selected with one eye on that competition but it was no less stern of a test that Glasgow faced in their quest to cement a playoff spot; players the calibre of Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray were lined up. Glasgow were also chasing a first away win against Munster since 2008.
Nevertheless the visitors got the scoreboard going with almost their first possession as Jonny Gray barrelled over by the posts from close range and Weir converted.
Glasgow continued with a series of impressive phases, Finn Russell at 12 fizzing nicely timed passes to the men outside him while Gray and Strauss were making ground. Referee Nigel Owens – late in from a delayed flight – awarded a penalty and Weir duly made it ten points in as many minutes.
Like Glasgow, Munster are doing their best to confound previous reputations for oppressive rugby, and were happy to spin the ball wide via the lively JJ Hanrahan and Zebo. They looked dangerous but weren’t as clinical as they would have liked and let Glasgow retain their lead.
The hosts had their first real chance after quarter of an hour and only a last ditch tackle by Fusaro kept them out, followed up by a lunge of the foot from Cusiter that kicked the ball from CJ Stander’s arms as he tried to touch down over the line. Munster came straight back though and quick passing from Conor Murray and Earls found a 3-on-1 overlap, allowing Stander to score at his next attempt.
A groggy Hanrahan went off after only 20 minutes, with usual first choice Ian Keatley brought on to run the show. Cusiter had an injury scare of his own moments later as he looked to have injured a finger; Cusiter played through it.
His passing seemed to be fine moments later as we saw the impressive Sean Maitland start and finish a try-scoring move, first ghosting through a gap with that deceptive pace of his (Carlin who?), then finishing up on the other wing to scamper over. Although Weir was unable to convert, overall it was highly efficient use of possession, with Glasgow making the most of every single chance that presented itself.
Munster continued to make iffy decisions when gifted opportunities, Stander kicking ahead following the interception of a Chris Cusiter pass when giving the ball to his winger outside would most likely see a try. Glasgow on the other hand upped their intensity and put together a series of short range blasts near the Munster posts, ending with Josh Strauss stretching past Keith Earls over the line.
Improbably, but deservedly, Glasgow were 3 tries to the good before half time in the stronghold of Irish rugby.
HT: Munster 5-22 Glasgow
As the Munster chants and songs rang out to start the second half, both sides seemed to raise the intensity – Munster presumably as the result of a stern talking to and Glasgow in recognition of the standards that would need to be maintained.
Glasgow had the first scoring chance with Gordy Reid making an enterprising break through the ruck – a set move no less – but Wilson was held up over the line as Glasgow looked to land a knockout blow.
Munster then replied with some ferocious attacking, Keatley and Felix Jones taking the ball at speed but finding a seemingly endless line of Glasgow defenders as they crept ever forward… and knocked it on.
By the time we saw the famous Geoff Cross leg drive deployed in Glasgow colours, the game had broken up considerably, with both sides kicking a bit more, scrummaging worse, and Mr Owens having to use his whistle a bit more too. Duncan Weir spilled a few too many high balls but luckily the men either side of him were playing well and he escaped for the most part.
Munster’s one edge was in the scrum, but luckily few enough of those occurred in critical positions for Glasgow until the 67th minute and Glasgow escaped that one before Owens lost his patience. However, the breakup of the game hadn’t helped Glasgow in their quest for a priceless fourth try. That didn’t mean there were not moments to savour, including a huge hit on Vernon by Keith Earls and a rolling maul Munster themselves might have enjoyed.
As Pyrgos marshalled Glasgow frantically towards the try line for the final five minutes and the knock-ons mounted, it was perhaps an indication of the ambition of this Glasgow club that they would end it unhappy not to have claimed a 4-try bonus away at Munster.
Still, no small achievment and gives Glasgow a real boost in the RaboDirect PRO12 table. Ospreys beating Leinster means the Welsh region are still hot on Glasgow’s heels but if the Warriors can put performances like that together for the rest of the season, there is no reason Glasgow can’t aspire to better than merely scraping into the playoffs.
SRBlog Man of the Match: very difficult to pick with Cusiter, Gray, Fusaro and Maitland all standing out but Josh Strauss was the cornerstone of the pack and provides this Glasgow team with at times unstoppable momentum.