Big-game woes return to haunt outgunned Reds
Munster 13 Glasgow 31
Published 01/06/2015 | 02:30
This was a reminder that Munster, more than any of their rivals, need their biggest names in the biggest games.
For Anthony Foley, it brought back memories that were recent but had been dimmed by the good form of spring. To the list of Clermont, Saracens and Ospreys add Glasgow Warriors in the Guinness Pro12 final.
Take nothing away from the Scots' performance: they were magnificent during the first half in Belfast and thoroughly deserved their title.
Their innovative coach Gregor Townsend couldn't stop smiling at the end, as their sizeable visiting contingent roared out the chant 'We are Warriors' from behind the goal.
Leinster could do worse than picking up the phone and enquiring into the 1997 Lions out-half's interest in making Dublin his home.
Munster fans would have recognised the scenes from an age that is fast slipping into the memory banks. After Paul O'Connell departs, Denis Hurley, Donncha O'Callaghan and the returning Tomas O'Leary will be their only connection to the team that landed their last Heineken Cup.
This emphatic defeat means their wait for a title of any hue stretches to five seasons and, if they are to bridge that gap, it is clear that Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray must be on the field. They were sorely missed on Saturday.
"When we get to the big games - you look at the Saracens game over there, you look at the Clermont game at home and the final here - the big games have been. . . we need to manage them better," a disappointed Foley said.
"There are times when we have done that, up at the Aviva (against Leinster) when I thought we managed it quite well, and the Saracens home game.
"It is probably getting a maturity to this group that they turn up and get a performance in. Today is bitterly disappointing but you look at the calibre of rugby that Glasgow had to play to beat us, and you kind of take your hat off to them in one respect.
"At times out there, if we had managed to get within a score of them we could have pushed on and maybe got a bit more pressure on - it didn't happen. We have a month to look at why and then we have two months to hammer them and see what happens to us in September."
A year ago, Glasgow gathered in a huddle at the RDS to reflect on a similar defeat in the final. Leinster had taught them a lesson and they bounced back by topping the table and making sure they didn't repeat their mistakes when they got back to the league's show-piece.
They have shown the way, now it is up to Munster to follow.
"Getting a taste of finals is a big thing, there's a lot of guys in the squad who haven't played in a final," Hurley, who captained the team on Saturday, said,
"As disappointing as today is, it will stand to them. The taste is there to try and get back to more finals again," said Foley. "That's something we can strive for again next season and the opportunity to get lads to play in these big games; the disappointments are going to happen at times and that's the tos and fros of the sport that we play.
"It's hard to take, but we'll grow from it. At the same time, Glasgow performed so well today that they really did beat us off the park in certain areas, and that's a credit to them."
There was no denying that. Over the course of the first half, the Warriors were a class apart and it looked like getting embarrassing for Munster when they raced into a 21-3 lead until Andrew Smith's try late in the first half stemmed the tide and afforded them a way back into the game.
They rallied, but Ian Keatley's penalty was all they had to show from a dominant spell after half-time and they couldn't get within a score despite O'Connell crossing the line. He was held up and, when Glasgow went up the other end, they showed a far more clinical edge.
Munster simply couldn't live with their opponents' running game, with Fijian second-row Leone Nakarawa unplayable at times.
Perhaps wary of the off-loading threat, the Reds stood off their opponents but their lack of line-speed cost them, inviting runners like Nakarawa, Stuart Hogg and DTH van der Merwe on to them.
Half-backs Henry Pyrgos and Finn Russell completely outplayed Duncan Williams and Ian Keatley, whose poor kicking from hand invited the Warriors to attack even more.
Nakarawa was sensational, brushing off Keatley and off-loading out of Williams' tackle for Rob Harley to open the scoring, before bouncing Williams and holding off O'Connell and Keith Earls to set up van der Merwe, who handed off Keatley to finish the second.
Hogg was the orchestrator of the third as he burned Dave Kilcoyne in open country, before fixing Simon Zebo to put Pyrgos over under the posts.
Things were looking desperate for Munster as Glasgow toyed with them, but Smith's impressive finish from a loose ball set up a spell of dominance that, had O'Mahony and Murray been there, might have led to something of more substance.
Their scrum was strong, but Glasgow coped well with their maul and, when O'Connell went for the line, he couldn't get the ball down.
Foley threw on JJ Hanrahan and Ronan O'Mahony to help chase the game, but they were barely on the pitch before huddling beneath the posts after Russell skated over to cap a spell of forward power. He converted his own try and the champions could play out the final 20 minutes in comfort.
For Foley, it was a humbling reminder of the dark days and a reality check of where Munster are.
They have a platform, but need more behind the scrum to progress further.
The availability of Tyler Bleyendaal and introduction of Francis Saili will add some bite to their backline, but the loss of O'Connell will hurt their pack enormously.
"It is a progression, we are going in the right route," said Foley.
"If we can maintain a lot of the good things we are doing as well, we won't throw everything out.
"We need to find a few more subtleties to our game, we now have to take positives out of it. I think we gave away five penalties in a game that we conceded 30-odd points.
"Our set-piece, scrum, it didn't matter what front-row we had on, I know Archie (Stephen Archer) got a call late on when a scrum came across on him but aside from that we have a set-piece we can function off.
"And now it's just about making use of the ball, making better decisions and equipping the players with the right abilities to do that."
For now, it was time to simply hail the Pro12's new champions, the first from Scotland. The Warriors have built a club from weak foundations in a football-mad city, slowly accumulating a fan-base that travelled in good numbers to the Kingspan Stadium and made themselves heard.
In Townsend, they have a brilliant young coach with impeccable playing credentials who has built a team who are both attractive to watch and brutally effective.
Having used Joe Schmidt's Leinster as a template for building a game-plan, he now wants Scottish rugby to emulate the Irish game.
"When I played I saw Irish teams winning trophies," he said. "I believe we have momentum and this trophy can really help kick on for professional rugby in Scotland."
MUNSTER - F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, D Hurley (capt), S Zebo (R O'Mahony 57); I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 57), D Williams (C Sheridan 72); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 64), E Guinazu (D Casey 63), BJ Botha (S Archer 61); B Holland (J O'Donoghue 61), P O'Connell; D Ryan, P Butler (S Dougall 11-19 blood, 72), CJ Stander.
GLASGOW WARRIORS - S Hogg (S Lamont 63); T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe (N Matawalu 71); F Russell (D Weir 68), H Pyrgos; G Reid (J Yanuyanutawa 78), D Hall (F Brown 61), R de Klerk (J Welsh 53); L Nakarawa (A Kellock 67), J Gray; R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss (capt).
REF - N Owens (Wales)