Glasgow to test Munster mettle ahead of Quins test
THE improvement in Munster's play was so discernible last weekend that any regression against Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun tonight will be just as obvious.
Whether it was the influence of Paul O'Connell or not isn't all that important. Word is that the former captain was vocal in his insistence that any game plan introduced by the coaching staff must include the traditional strengths of mauling and direct running.
However, how the evolution came about is, for the most part, immaterial. Munster were hugely improved for the first 50 minutes against Connacht.
The challenge facing them tonight is to sustain that improvement until the final whistle.
It is opportune that Glasgow provide the opposition tonight as they will surely test Munster in every facet ahead of the Reds' Heineken Cup quarter-final against Harlequins.
The Scottish side suffered a setback last weekend when they lost to Leinster in Dublin, a loss that might cost them a home semi-final in the Pro12 League.
Their European form this season has been poor. They won just one of their pool games and finished bottom, although they were in a particularly difficult group that included Ulster, Northampton and Castres.
On the flip slide, they have won 13 of their 18 Pro12 games and are only one point behind leaders Leinster.
Glasgow will also be determined to make amends for the heavy loss they suffered to Munster at Thomond Park at the start of December, when they were beaten 31-3.
That was the heaviest defeat they suffered in the league season and they will certainly back themselves at home to avoid successive defeats.
They have recalled Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Ryan Grant and Tim Swinson to the starting team after the quartet missed the loss to Leinster.
There are nine changes to the team that lost in Dublin, with one positional switch.
"We are disappointed after losing last weekend. But there are positives from that game and we will pick ourselves up for the Munster game, which is very important," said coach Gregor Townsend.
Glasgow vary their game with tremendous success and have the ability to attack from anywhere.
They are equally adept at attacking wide or tight, and Munster's back-row, in particular, will have to be wary of the attacking nous of a very street-smart and mobile Glasgow pack.
Coach Rob Penney (pictured left) has set his Munster players a challenge – to cut down the individual error count that crept into their game in the second half against Connacht at the weekend.
"In the first half, we had around eight unforced errors, which was heading in a really good direction, but we ended up with 25 individual errors overall, which isn't good enough," said Penney.
"Our discipline was really good – I think we gave away eight penalties and free-kicks, which is as low as you get – but we do need to ensure that our errors are cut.
"You build pressure on teams by making as few mistakes as possible, and that's something we have to improve on."
Glasgow, though, will be determined to start the weekend on a positive note and exert pressure on their competition in the top four, Ulster and Leinster, who meet tomorrow night. One of those two will drop points and Glasgow will want to take advantage.
According to Glasgow defence coach Matt Taylor, the players are determined to atone for the loss to Leinster.
"The performance against Munster in Limerick was our worst of the season so we want to make amends," he said.
"For us it was a missed opportunity against Leinster and I believe we have the ability to beat any side in Europe, if we bring our 'A' game.
"It's going to be an epic game and we're looking forward to it."
This is a game Munster can win, but with four regulars – Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Donnacha Ryan and Peter O'Mahony – still a week away from returning, Glasgow's home advantage could be decisive.
GLASGOW – S Hogg; S Maitland, S Lamont, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe; R Jackson, N Matawalu; R Grant, PMacArthur, J Welsh, T Swinson, A Kellock, J Strauss, J Barclay, R Wilson. Reps: M Bennett, D Weir, H Pyrgos, R Harley, T Ryder, M Low, D Hall, O Fainga'anuku.
MUNSTER – F Jones; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; R O'Gara, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha; D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell; P Butler, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan. Reps: D Varley, W du Preez, S Archer, B Holland, N Ronan, C Sheridan, I Keatley, I Dineen.
Glasgow v Munster
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