The events of last Sunday obviously took precedence over everything else for the Munster rugby family this week, with Anthony Foley being laid to rest on the Friday. The decision was taken to continue with the fixture the very next day against Glasgow, leaving the Scotstoun men in a bit of a ‘No Win’ situation. Thomond Park was obviously packed to capacity in tribute to one of the province’s favourite sons, and the emotion of the occasion was written all over the Muster team, with tears flowing freely for a number of players before the game.
Fears over the Munster state of mind and preparation were blown out the water almost instantly in what was a decidedly one-sided fixture. Roared on by a sea of red, Tyler Bleyendaal showed some individual brilliance to carve a route through the Glasgow backs. Defensively this was the beginning of a complete horror story for the Scotstoun side, but the finish was well taken by Bleyendaal. He stepped up and added the extras to make it 7-0 with 5 minutes played.
Beginning, middle and end Glasgow could not get the ball, and Jerome Garces was not really in the mood to give the Scots any advantage, with the breakdown in particular seeing lots of ‘holding off the ball’ and clear-outs typically way beyond the ruck to create space for runners. Finn Russell was having a torrid time as well, on the back of slow ball. A spell of relative calm saw Russell nab a penalty, but Munster then romped back up the park aided by Glasgow’s complete inability to secure restarts, and scored another. This one was wide on the left with Jaco Taute dotting down. Bleyendaal obviously had brought his kicking boots as well, slotting from the touchline. 14-3 was a fair representation of the first 15 minutes.
This was a day of tribute and emotion, but there was still a rugby game to be played. Unfortunately, Keith Earls took leave of his senses, dumping Fraser Brown way over the vertical in a shockingly similar tackle to last week’s Matt Toomua effort on Russell. The difference – Brown didn’t break his own fall. Red for Earls, and an embarrassing show as he walked off, mouthing off at anyone who would listen. The only blemish on an otherwise admirable day, I hope that Earls has the clarity today to apologise to his teammates, management and Fraser Brown.
So a glimmer of hope for Glasgow? 15 against 14, for 65 minutes, surely Glasgow would have a chance here?
Sadly for Warriors fans, the crowd more than made up for the numerical difference. Gregor Townsend later described the game as being 15 against 25,000, and this was shown on the park. First Bleyendaal added a simple 3 points, moving the lead back to 14. Then Simon Zebo crossed for the 3rd try, converted by Bleyendaal and roared on by the crowd.
Glasgow could not compete and they were lucky to only go in 3 tries down at half time.
Half-time: Munster 24-3 Glasgow
The second 40 started as had the first, with Munster reclaiming the restart and immediately pressurising the Glasgow line. The Munster pack were playing like it was to be their last ever game: hitting breakdowns, rushing in defence and delivering set piece with a ferocity that I can’t say I have ever seen and certainly not since Paul O’Connell retired. It was inevitable that a penalty try would come when another Munster scrum marched the Glasgow pack backwards.
Bonus point secured for Munster, and for Glasgow the plan now became one of damage limitation, or perhaps restoring some measure of respect.
A number of changes from Townsend saw Stuart Hogg move to 10 with Peter Murchie coming in at full back, but in truth it had very little impact.
Glasgow finally scored a try on 65 minutes, Pat MacArthur strolling over after a clever maul setup. Hogg converted, and when Mark Bennett added another try on the 70-minute mark, suddenly Glasgow were a converted score away from a losing bonus point at 31-17, which would have been a near miracle.
This was never to be Glasgow’s day however, with Munster firmly shutting the door on even a single point for Glasgow with their fifth try of the day coming from Rory Scannell.
Glasgow simply were the punch bags for Munster’s grief and loss, the unfortunate bystanders in a tribute to a Munster legend.
Yes, Glasgow were awful; they lacked leadership, go forward and any sort of basic defensive structure. However, it is hopefully a situation that these young players, some of whom are not even 20 years of age, will never need to face again. Some fans are questioning whether they wanted to win, and the simple truth is they probably didn’t.
All in all, though, the result is a secondary concern. Rugby honoured one of its own, with 2 massive rivals coming together in celebration of a great rugby man taken way too soon.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Usually this one goes to a Scottish player, but only one man could take the award. The way that the Munster pack demolished the Scotstoun men was a clear example of the work of the late Anthony Foley. This match was only ever about him. His men provided a fitting tribute to his approach to rugby and life as a Munsterman and it is clear that his legacy should include a ferocious pack that is the equal of any. Seeing his young sons and widow on the park afterwards, singing with the squad was an amazing moment. Rest easy, Axel.
Munster: S Zebo; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Ryan, B Holland; P O’Mahony (capt), T O’Donnell, CJ Stander.
Replacements: D Casey, B Scott, S Archer, R Copeland, J O’Donoghue, D Williams, I Keatley, R O’Mahony.
Glasgow: S Hogg; S Lamont, A Dunbar, S Johnson, R Hughes; F Russell, H Pyrgos; G Reid, F Brown, Z Fagerson; T Swinson, J Gray; R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss.
Replacements: P MacArthur, A Allan, S Puafisi, L Wynne, S Favaro, A Price, M Bennett, P Murchie.