Sport Champions Cup

Sunday 22 October 2017

Battling Reds squeeze through

Glasgow 12 Munster 14

Francis Saili goes over to score Munster’s match-winning try against Glasgow last night. Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Francis Saili goes over to score Munster’s match-winning try against Glasgow last night. Photo: Stephen McCarthy
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

If you came to the west end of Glasgow last night looking for full bore rugby then you will have considered the journey worthwhile. The least you expected was that it would in no way resemble the landslide in Thomond Park when these teams met in the second round of this pool, a game played in extraordinary circumstances and with an extraordinary result.

A fair bit has happened since then, not the least of which was the exit from Welford Road of Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill. Given the pummeling they took in Glasgow in round one, Gregor Townsend's side knew the least they needed was to go there having beaten Munster if they wanted to top the pool. Players are fond of trotting out the line about that various venues are 'hard places to go.' For Glasgow, Welford Road is certainly in that category, regarldess of what shape the Tigers are in.

En route they can reflect on a couple of talking points from this compelling contest. First there were the circumstances in which they conceded the game's only try, which puts Munster into the Champions Cup quarter-finals, with a home draw hard to miss given that it's Racing coming to Limerick on Saturday.

With nine minutes left and Glasgow leading 12-9, Stuart Hogg was yellow carded for making contact with the face of Andrew Conway, who was trying to squeeze over in the corner. On review referee Luke Pearce reckoned it was not worth a penalty try but, under the new emphasis on eradicating high tackles of any sort, the full back was binned.

From there Munster went to touch and then, when the maul was dropped - Glasgow had sacked it successfully all night - shifted the ball wide where Keith Earls worked a lovely switch with replacement Francis Saili for the Kiwi to score. It was a terrific finish to the move, regardless of its provenance.

Before they could congratulate themselves on the score - unconverted by an otherwise spot-on Tyler Bleyendaal - Glasgow had recaptured the ball on the restart and the noise in a stuffed Scotstoun (the crowd was 7,351) reached new levels. Which lead to talking point number two: Bleyendaal's miss left just two points between the teams, so should Finn Russell not have worked a drop goal opportunity as Glasgow ran through phases in sight of Munster's posts?

Glasgow's Alex Dunbar is tackled by Munster's Simon Zebo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Glasgow's Alex Dunbar is tackled by Munster's Simon Zebo. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Whatever, it was another example of Munster's incredible knack of winning tight games. Only in Welford Road, since they turned things around last October, have they got the silver medal in a two team race down the final straight.

Given that they were not seen, understandably, at the start of this competition as a force to be feared, this is an extraordinary return for Rassie Erasmus.

"When they analyse us now they might take us more seriously," Erasmus said. "I'm not sure what their (other pool teams) mindsets were. We thought all three teams were daunting, but we thought it was possible."

A fat, quarter-final pay-day for Munster is now probable in a stadium where they struggled to reach the half full point last season.

Peter O’Mahony with the support of his Munster team-mate CJ Stander. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony with the support of his Munster team-mate CJ Stander. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

This wasn't their best showing of the pool phase but ultimately it was irresistible. They were under the cosh form the start, with Glasgow going out of their way to give maximum grief to Conor Murray. Whether he had just passed or kicked, Murray more often than not had a late challenge to deal with. Nothing that would trouble the High Court, but enough to cause discomfort to the victim. Anything that upset him was, for Glasgow, good business. In a fascinating set-piece battle there was precious little between the teams. In fairness to Townsend, he didn't whinge afterwards.

"Our players are hugely disappointed but the better team won," he said.

In such a hotly contested game you might say the referee did well to only award 19 penalties (nine of them against Glasgow), and aside from Saili's try it was the only method of getting the scoreboard moving. Hogg, Russell and Bleyendaal did the heavy lifting between them, and by the break it was 6-6, which was fair enough, especially for Munster who didn't get a sniff of the ball in the opening quarter - the consolation being that their excellent defence kept their line intact.

They were under pressure again in the third quarter and both Earls and CJ Stander saved them in their own 22 before they lifted the siege. Russell knocked over another two, with Bleyendaal squeezing one in between, to leave it 12-9 to Glasgow going into the last 10 minutes.

It spoke volumes for Munster's fitness that they could bring such energy and intensity to that stage, and come away with the crucial score for Saili. And similarly it told you something about Glasgow that having had the door reopened, after that try, they couldn't quite squeeze through it. It's a tough old business this, and with each passing week Munster look more like men who know how to get it done.

Scorers - Glasgow: Russell 3 pens, Hogg pen. Munster: Sali try, Bleyendaal 3 pens

Glasgow: S Hogg (yc 71); T Seymour, M Bennett (N Grigg 63), A Dunbar, L Jones; F Russell, A Price; G Reid (A Allan 79), F Brown (P McArthur 63), Z Fagerson (D Rae 79), T Swinson, J Gray (capt), R Harley, J Strauss (C Fusaro 68), R Wilson

Munster: S Zebo (I Keatley 73); A Conway, J Taute (F Saili 57), R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray (HIA, D Williams 66-71); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 49), N Scannell (R Marshall 68),J Ryan (T du Toit 61), J Kleyn (B Holland 51), D Ryan, P O'Mahony (capt)(D Foley 73), CJ Stander, J O'Donoghue

Referee: L Pearce (England)

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