Old Pro 12 rivals Munster came to Scotstoun on Saturday for Glasgow Warriors’ penultimate European Champions Cup Group A fixture. The Irish side were top of the table after their bonus point win against Racing 92 in Paris last week, but Glasgow knew their fate was still in their own hands – 2 wins this weekend and next, and they would qualify. A full fifteen of Scotland capped players started for the Warriors, with the whole 23 man squad eligible for the national side.
Glasgow started with an aggression and determination matched only matched by the quality of their opponents’ defence. Munster were flying out the line smashing bodies backwards, but the Warriors were the ones doing the pressing. It took 13 minutes for the first chance for points though, with Finn Russell slotting a simple penalty to give the home side a deserved lead.
A feature of this match was that every time the Warriors scored, Munster would come straight back up and level it up. Tyler Bleyendaal, so influential in the reverse fixture thumping earlier in the season, missed his first attempt from 51m but was not to be denied much longer, with a much easier attempt levelling the scores up at 3-3 after 20 minutes. Fingernails were in short supply even at this early point.
Glasgow, perhaps surprisingly given Munster’s traditional skill set, were having a great time at the breakdown, winning plenty of turnover ball and disrupting the Munster possession. Furthermore, a clear tactic of ensuring Conor Murray ‘knew he was in a game’ was visible, with a number of borderline hits on the scrumhalf, timed to be early enough they couldn’t back out and so mostly legal, but late enough the intent was clear. Frustrated, Murray moaned and gesticulated like a footballer, but for the most part got up and on with it.
The breakdown superiority was ensuring Glasgow had a tonne of possession, but the Muster defence continued to look untroubled. The next points came from a 54m penalty from Stuart Hogg, which had another 15m left on it easily, but as before, Bleyendaal immediately evened it up to 6-6.
With 5 minutes of the 1st half remaining, Hogg had another attempt from halfway, this time after a bit of a comical mix up where the referee moved the ball back in the middle of Finn Russell’s kick preparations prompting the change of kicker – apparently Finn fancies 47m, but not 50. The kick sailed wide and at halftime there was plenty of positives, but definitely not enough points on the board to represent the Warriors possession and territory.
HT Glasgow 6 – 6 Munster
As with the first 40, the Warriors came flying out of the traps, roared on by some incredible noise coming from the Scotstoun fans, and this time they seemed to be finding more gaps in the defence. Russell and Tim Swinson in particular seemed to be causing the most problems for the Irish side. Another 3 points for Finn on 47 minutes seemed scant reward for their domination, especially when that man Bleyendaal again levelled us up on 50 minutes through Glasgow indiscipline.
At 9-9 Munster definitely fancied their chances, with their bench on paper a lot stronger than Glasgow’s which contained very little experience for the most part.
Glasgow had not had to work very hard in defence up to this point, with a few high balls being lost but tackles and breakdown work very solid. Russell added another 3 points on the 60 minute mark, and this time they managed to hold onto the lead for a period of time. It seemed for a while like a real turning point, but Munster were not finished yet.
To this point I have not mentioned the new World Rugby directives on high tackles and contact with the head. This is surprising, given the ferocity with which the Munster defence in particular had been setting about the Warriors attack, but it had to intervene at some point.
With 70 minutes on the clock, Munster finally mounted an attack that didn’t involve sending the ball high into the Scotstoun skyline. Stuart Hogg positioned himself to make the tackle on Andrew Conway, and as Conway quickly changed direction inside, against Hogg’s momentum, all Hogg had left to block him was a flailing arm. Those are the breaks with this new law and so Stuart was shown the yellow card leaving the Warriors with 14 men for the rest of the game.
From the resulting penalty, which Munster put in to the corner, they recycled the ball, spun it wide and Francis Saili dived over in the corner after a lovely pivot from public enemy number one Keith Earls drew Tommy Seymour in, leaving a big hole inevitably around the spot where Hogg would have been. Frustrating!
The conversion was missed though, meaning a 3 point penalty or drop goal could still win it for Glasgow with 9 minutes remaining.
From the restart the Warrior could not believe their luck. Swinson, who had put in one of his best displays in a Warriors shirt, broke free down the flank, getting the Glasgow side into position about 15m out. Russell lined up for the drop goal, but for some reason the ball was never sent back to him in the pocket, continuing through the forwards for 7 phases before a knock on cost Glasgow the chance at victory. Presumably whoever made the call not to go for the drop will need to have a very robust reason on Monday, when they review that phase of play to avoid a dressing down from management.
Munster played out the rest of the time comfortably, and only the unsavoury scenes at the end, with Conor Murray celebrating in the Warriors players faces (they were admittedly in his face in the first place after yet another late hit) and almost getting a thumping from D’arcy Rae for it, marred what had been a terrific match.
One for the purists, but that’s no bad thing. Glasgow must now go to Welford Road to face a Leicester side who have nothing but pride to play for, having lost to Racing 92. The mathematicians among the Warriors support will be out in force this week working out the possibilities.
The rest of us will hope that such a promising European campaign doesn’t fizzle out.
FT Glasgow 12 – 14 Munster
SRBlog Man of the Match: I can’t believe I agreed so much with Stuart Barnes, but Tim Swinson was head and shoulders above every player on the park, on either side. His work in both attack and defence was outstanding, and he clearly showed why the management wanted him signed up for another 3 years. Honourable mentions go to Josh Strauss, who finally looked in good form with ball in hand, and Zander Fagerson, who anchored the scrum well and won a couple of turnovers with some excellent breakdown work. Final word goes to the Scotstoun crowd, who were incredible from 1st minute to last. Lead well from the East stand, the songs and chants were clear and powerful! Glasgow need this for the rest of the season if we are going to make the playoffs.
Glasgow Warriors: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray (capt), Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson, Josh Strauss.
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Alex Allan (for Reid, 78), D’arcy Rae (for Z Fagerson, 78) Matt Fagerson, Chris Fusaro (for Strauss, 68), Grayson Hart, Nick Grigg (for Bennett, 63), Peter Murchie.
Yellow card: Hogg (71)
Munster: Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Keith Earls, Tyler Bleyendaal, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Donnacha Ryan; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, James Cronin (for Kilcoyne, 54) Thomas Du Toit (for Ryan, 60), Dave Foley (for O’Mahony), 74), Billy Holland (for Kleyn, 54), Duncan Williams (for Murray, 65-71), Ian Keatley, Francis Saili (for Taute, 57).
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)