I have being a hardened critic of the Guinness Pro 12 scheduling during the RBS 6 Nations tournament. The majority of games played are usually turgid affairs bereft of continuity and quality but there is always a fixture during this period which provides enormous entertainment value and tonight in Rugby Park delivered in spades.
This fixture was a ‘do or die’ fixture for both teams. It is strange to see last season’s finalists languishing in mid-table positions and tonight would determine who would be looking forward to a potential season ending top four playoff berth push or for the loser a season ending devoid of excitement and the reality of potentially playing European Challenge Cup next season.
Glasgow Warriors came out of the traps incredibly fast and scored two tries from Sili Puafisi. Both tries will be watched with absolute horror by Munster in video analysis next week as the first try came from two bursts from scrum half Ali Price leaving Munster defensively exposed. The second try was all about number eight Josh Strauss whose power and ball carrying was too much for Munster.
Fourteen nil down and given the season that Munster have experienced, a capitulation looked on the cards as the fast track that is Rugby Park was playing to Glasgow Warriors strengths; pace, speed and quick ruck ball unleashing ball carrying threats such as Strauss.
However, Munster to their credit dusted themselves down and played arguably their best rugby of the season by scoring seventeen unanswered to lead at the interval. The game plan was simple but so effective; the pack running with a directness which opened gaps in Glasgow’s defense. Dave Kilcoyne was the chief recipient with two close range tries but both Munster props were prominent in the lead-up to both tries. Ian Keatley tacked over the two conversions and in between slotted over a regulation penalty to leave Munster ahead, quite the response.
Glasgow regrouped at the break and they went back in front with their third try on forty-three minutes. The hosts spreading Munster defensively thin as Peter Horne passed to Duncan Weir to touch down. It was classic Glasgow and one wonders why they could not produce this style of rugby in the European Rugby pool stages.
Munster were now behind again and things got even worse on fifty-six minutes when Tomas O’Leary was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on. The deliberate knock-on was merited according to match official Ben Whitehouse but when have you seen this offense not pinged in recent 6N fixtures? The officiating of this offense needs to be reviewed by the powers that be.
The fourteen Munster men were further behind during this ten minute period as Duncan Weir again kicked a penalty to open up a decisive gap one thought but Munster responded again as Mike Sherry crashed over from close range after a lineout drive. Keatley’s conversion from the sideline was excellent and suddenly Munster were back in front 24-22 with eighteen minutes left.
Munster indiscipline was again highlighted when James Cronin was given his stint in the sin bin with little over ten minutes left and it ultimately was decisive as Glasgow again turned the screw with the man advantage as centre Bryce went over for the bonus point to give the hosts the lead which they never looked like surrendering thereafter.
Cronin re-emerged from his stint on the sidelines but Glasgow were resolute defensively. The hosts realized that a win was essential to keep their title ambitions intact. Ian Keatley had a drop-goal kick but it was asking too much and with it was Munster’s challenge. Glasgow ended the game on the ascendancy and could afford to kick the post with a penalty right on full-time.
Glasgow will only grow after this ding-dong contest victory. The confidence in the camp will soar after this result as they were forced to dig deep to win. Glasgow are a live opponent in the league for the rest of the season and with the likes of Strauss, Puafisi and Peter Horne in good form – things are looking on the up for the reigning champions.
As for Munster, the effective four day turnaround from the Osprey’s loss was a step too far for this squad. Munster’s season is ending for a slow and painful ending and the priority now is to secure a top six berth. Any chance of a top four finish looks remote at best after tonight’s latest reversal. The fight is in the squad but again indiscipline and concentration lapses were wholly exposed by an opponent who relished the pitch conditions. Axel Foley and management must look to the new season and hope to secure quality additions to the squad to avoid a repeat of this season. A potentially sorry end to a miserable season for the province.