European Rugby Champions Cup: Munster 38-17 Glasgow Warriors

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Best of luck to today, emotional afternoon beckons. Team and fans in unison. Let’s do it for Axel! – Hawkeye Sidekick (Morning of October 21st)

Glasgow Warriors, a team who produced the standout performance of the opening round of the tournament last week scoring fifty points against Leicester Tigers would have felt confident of producing a performance against a Munster team whose attentions were far removed from the training ground after a traumatic week.

Munster had just lost their head coach. Munster had just lost a man who embodied the province. Munster had lost a legend of their club. It is in this backdrop that 26,000 Munster fans assembled. It is in this backdrop where a group of Munster players and management came together and produced a performance which defied logic but rekindled an atmosphere in Thomond Park which has being missing for a number of years.

I knew that there was something special about to happen in Thomond Park by the number of fans who were making their way to the grounds at least two hours before kickoff. I was in Raheen at around 11am on Saturday morning and multiple buses with Munster supporters were leaving, the volume of support spoke volumes. Castletroy, a similar story. The locals were going to Thomond Park to support the team, to be the sixteenth man, to provide the guidance to the team in their hour of need.

The events leading to kickoff were impeccably executed. The tributes, the sight of numerous Shannon flags in the crowd was a great touch, a reminder of Foley’s connection with the Shannon RFC, a link between the amateur and professional sides of the game in the province. The tribute from the West Stand was sensational; it was an emphatic tribute and the atmosphere around the ground was crackling; it was back to the Miracle games against Gloucester and Sale.

Any confidence that Glasgow had going into this contest was gone. The fans had set the fixture, lifted the team and management to new heights. The hunger, intensity and power of Munster in the first ten minutes was incredible; winning the 50/50 battles. The running lines were full of speed and aggression and offloading was on point evident in Earl’s sublime pass to Bleyendaal who with plenty to do evaded several Glasgow tackles and over for a sensational try.

The subsequent conversion had Munster seven points to the good. Glasgow were stung, surely there was a reaction coming. However, Munster continued to control the pack exchanges, game line yards were being made, breakdown clearouts were emphatic. A second try was coming and with Scannell making a superb line break, the ball was spread out wide to Jaco Taute who went over, a physical player who needs to be signed long term to the province. The resulting conversion was sublime; the curl of the ball coming in at the last moment, this was going to be Munster’s day.

Even a red-card to the hosts could not derail the atmosphere in the venue; it even increased the cauldron atmosphere. Earls tackle was worthy of a red card; loss of control than cynical. Glasgow were fighting a losing battle even playing against fourteen. As Gregor Townsend said post-game, Glasgow were playing 26,000 people, not just 15 players. Scannell at twelve produced his best performance in a Munster jersey; his ability to beat the first tackle was key to the third try as the ball found its way to Simon Zebo who just got over for the try. Axel probably gave him a shove over the line. Another excellent conversion from the touchline and Munster had a 24-3 lead at the break. How could they have this lead? Down to fourteen players. Logic out the window.

Glasgow were again on the back foot in the early exchanges of the second half with Munster’s pack to a man excelling in their ball carrying duties and set piece. John Ryan had an inspired afternoon;,,dlodlo scrum time dominance built the platform for Munster to launch penalties deep into Warrior’s territory. A fourth try was inevitable and more pressure on Glasgow’s scrum resulted in a penalty try; reward to the Munster pack. Axel Foley would have being pleased.

The inevitable exertions for the fourteen players took their toll in the third quarter and Glasgow suddenly found some form. Two quick tries for the Warriors, the second try was a superbly executed score and highlighted Glasgow at their best; quick ruck ball allowing Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg to orchestrate. Mark Bennett expertly scored and suddenly the gap was down to fourteen points. The home crowd reacted and the players followed suit.

A clinically worked fifth try was scored to provide much needed breathing space in the last ten minutes. The Munster pack again to the fore; making several game line breaks and Murray spotting Scannell out wide to go over in the corner. Ian Keatley who had replaced Bleyendaal by then continued to set the tone with a superb kick from the touchline. 38-17. Game over.

The crackling atmosphere in the Thomond Park stands and terraces continued until the final whistle as Ian Keatley lashed the ball out of play following a Glasgow knock-on. Mission accomplished but there was one last moment to remember. The Munster players escorted Axel Foley’s sons to the middle of the pitch to launch into ‘Stand Up and Fight’; a massive statement for the players to make. This result was for everyone. Everyone in the ground contributed to the result. Unforgettable memories and one hopes that this is how it will be going forward in Thomond Park going forward.

Glasgow Warriors are still very much in this pool. Their attacking rugby will yield additional wins in this tournament but they came up against a force which was almost paranormal in nature. As the great man would say, Munster played with a bit of dog in them. Foley’s charges delivered their most emphatic performance. Erasmus must now identify how to channel this performance in a consistent manner. Epic. One for the annals.