The red shirts of Munster earned themselves some dead-time redemption in the eyes of their fans, with the final kick of a match that’s being touted as the game of the season so far but which was far from a foregone conclusion for the home side.
With many of Glasgow’s Scottish internationals being rested before the Autumn internationals, it was feared that a strong Munster side would use their power-game to stomp all over the Warriors, and they duly opened the scoring from close-range through prop James Cronin.
But this Warriors side, so often criticised last season for being soft up top, were not going down without a fight, sometimes literally. In particular, Adam Ashe and Matt Fagerson were as equally ferocious as their much-lauded (and much older and more experienced) opposite numbers Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander.
This added mean streak in defence has not been to the detriment of the attacking flair and Glasgow reduced the deficit with a sensational try from George “Horne-ito” Horne.
From inside their own 22, Fagerson’s miss-pass found Rory Hughes who bulldozed up the left, fed Horne Sr inside until his little brother popped up on his right shoulder to race to the corner. With the wind blowing fiercely at Thomond Park, Pete failed to add the extras from a fairly difficult position. Shortly afterwards he missed an easier looking penalty attempt.
Both sides were probing and made the odd line-break but defences were holding out, until shortly before hitting the sheds. Horne-ito went in under the sticks after Glasgow countered in blistering fashion from half-way. If there’s a better support line runner in the Pro14 than George Horne, please point him out. The former Scotland 7s star now has 14 tries from as many starts out of 28 appearances overall.
Pete Horne then thought he had extended the lead, but the try was ruled out for a forward pass by Stafford McDowall, a 22nd minute replacement for the luckless Sam Johnson who went off with the knee injury that will see him miss the chance for his first Scotland cap. Oli Kebble also had to be removed from the action early on, but despite that gloom Glasgow went in with a well-deserved if slender lead.
Half-time: Munster 7-12 Glasgow Warriors.
Glasgow’s ability to threaten from anywhere was evident again within 5mins of the restart. Munster encroached into the Glasgow 22, but after a brilliant turnover from Matt Fagerson, Nick Grigg went scorching away. Ruairidh Jackson just lost possession when attempting to ground the try, but a penalty was awarded for an off-the-ball tackle on the supporting Adam Ashe by Chris Cloete, who was also sent off to the sin-bin.
With Glasgow camped on Munster’s 5m line and a man up in the scrum, they eventually scored when Fagerson picked up from the base and dived over.
JJ Hanrahan looked to have reduced the arrears when swerving round Cummings and bolting for the line, but great defensive work from Horne-ito, Jackson and Ashe held him up over the line.
Horne Sr then put in a tremendous challenge on Stander from the resulting scrum. His wee brother was yelling “8’s coming! 8’s coming!”, while the scrum-wheels were in motion, so he had been fore-warned. Glasgow also managed to force an error in this defensive set to win the put-in at the scrum, but Munster, with what looked like an unseen early push on the loose-head side, won a penalty which Hanrahan knocked over to make it 10-17.
Brandon Thomson had replaced Rory Hughes by this point, shifting Pete Horne to centre and young McDowall to the wing. Glasgow got hold of Thomson’s restart, a penalty against Munster was followed by another penalty, then followed by another penalty advantage which George Horne used to full-effect. He dinked a chip into the goal area which Pete Horne wrestled from Wooton to score for the bonus-point score, Thomson adding the conversion.
An hour of excellence from Glasgow then sadly began to unravel. You would expect with Munster’s quality they would get on the scoreboard again, and after sustained pressure Wooton duly went over in the corner to make it 15-24.
Matawalu was harshly penalised, for reasons unknown and unexplained by the referee, who overall I thought was pretty fair to both sides throughout. It was a moment reminiscent of the penalty given against Nick Grigg in the season opener away to Connacht.
Munster grunted away, and scrum-half Alby Mathewson dived over from close-range in the 74th minute. Crucially, Ian Keatley succeeded off the tee. The edge of your seat needed to be made of stern stuff for this.
Then came the hammer-blow as Glasgow tried to run the clock-down.
How the penalty was awarded may be contentious; CJ Stander appeared to lead with his shoulder – or at the least a flailing arm with no intent to wrap around any ball-carrier – into Gibbins, admittedly with little force, as he went to support Kevin Bryce on the floor. It did have the effect of clearing out Fagerson and Gibbins from helping at the ruck yet to form which left Bryce on his own. Peter O’Mahony didn’t look like he was supporting his body-weight either, but it was hard to see once everyone flopped on top and so of course the whistle shrilled.
Rory Scannell nervelessly thumped it over from miles away, sparking raucous celebrations from Munster, and utter dejection for the Warriors.
I didn’t expect to come away with anything from this match when the teams were announced, so two bonus points may have exceeded my pre-match expectations, but this feels like one that got away. In a cruel twist of fate for Pete Horne, who otherwise had put in a very good performance, it was a left-footed centre who proved to be the match-winner. Had he not been so profligate from the tee, 2 would have been 5.
Hopefully, come the end of the season, it won’t prove to be too vital.
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)
SRB Man of the Match: a few contenders for this one, my most oft-repeated phrase this season is “Matt Fagerson – just how good is this kid?”, once again showed grit, guile and the capacity to work like a Shire horse. Unlike some of my fellow Warriors fans, I’m not signed up to the Nick Grigg fan-club, but he made an incredible 107m and was involved in the breaks for 2 Glasgow tries. Arguably his best showing against one of the top teams. The award however, goes to George Horne. Allied to his 2 tries and assist for Big Bro, he showed good game management for the full 80, was yapping effectively to his team-mates, and less to the ref.