Sunday 25 June 2017

No silver lining for Penney as era ends


Glasgow's Gordon Reid celebrates scoring a try against Munster in the Pro12 semi-final at Scotstoun Stadium
Glasgow's Gordon Reid celebrates scoring a try against Munster in the Pro12 semi-final at Scotstoun Stadium
Munster's Keith Earls, right, and Conor Murray react after defeat to Glasgow Warriors
Munster's Paul O'Connell contests a line out with Glasgow's Alastair Kellock
CJ Stander, Munster, is tackled by Leone Nakarawa, left, and Alastair Kellock, Glasgow Warriors
Simon Zebo, Munster, is tackled by Dougie Hall, left and Chris Fusaro, Glasgow Warriors
Ian Keatley, Munster, is tackled by Chris Fusaro, Glasgow Warriors
Keith Earls, Munster, and Alex Dunbar, Glasgow Warriors, tussle off the ball
Ryan Grant, Glasgow Warriors, is tackled by Munster's Sean Dougall
Conor Murray, Munster, in action against Josh Strauss, Glasgow Warriors
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THERE was something sadly fitting about the way the Rob Penney era drew to a close with Munster swinging the ball from touchline to touchline, running laterally as they desperately sought a cutting edge that never came.

While there have been a host of improvements on the New Zealander's watch, the greatest flaw was ultimately the team's insistence on wide play that very rarely came to fruition during a two-year spell that ends trophy-less.

In front of a raucous record crowd of 10,000, the Warriors deserved their success. Even though Munster scored more tries, it was the Scots who played most of the rugby and took the game to Munster from the off.

Having lost four semi-finals in succession, they finally got over the line. Anthony Foley will be hoping that his side can do the same next season after reaching that marker last night.

Penney's side improved vastly on their displays of recent weeks, but they couldn't fully eradicate their errors and conceded 13 points in 12 minutes either side of half-time that left them with a mountain that proved too high to climb.


Glasgow tore into their task with menace from the off, moving the ball from phase to phase, off-loading well and testing Munster's defence.

That held firm, but not without its cost as Casey Laulala was forced off with a shoulder injury after making a big tackle but surprisingly his side were 7-0 up by the time he finally conceded defeat as Munster struck with efficiency on a rare visit to the '22'.

It came from sending James Downey up the middle and his carry was followed on by the forwards and Damien Varley finished it off with a try. Ian Keatley converted after a long wait for the TMO, but that was effectively the last Munster would see of the ball for 20 minutes.

Although the defence held firm, the discipline began to slip. BJ Botha didn't release in the tackle and although young Warriors' fly-half Finn Russell sent the long-range effort wide, he made no mistake minutes later when Keith Earls was penalised for not rolling away.

By now, the Ireland international was in the centre with Andrew Conway on the wing, but Munster were unable to make the most of his attacking threat due to Glasgow's relentless possession.

Felix Jones produced a heroic piece of defending to stop Tommy Seymour short at the other end after lovely hands from the impressive Josh Strauss and Dunbar, but Munster again managed a raid up field where they used a move out of the Joe Schmidt locker involving CJ Stander, Jones and Sean Dougall to unlock the defence, but while Zebo thought he had touched down, TMO Carlo Damasco thought otherwise.

They still had the scrum, but Munster lost the initiative when Marius Mitrea harshly penalised Botha and it proved a big moment with Russell sending over two penalties in the last four minutes of the half to give his side the lead.

The toll of so much tackling was wearing on Munster who lost Jones to a concussion which forced Rob Penney into another backline rejig as JJ Hanrahan came on at out-half with Keatley moving to full-back.

Up until half-time, the errors that have plagued Penney's side since the Heineken Cup semi-final had been absent, but Dave Kilcoyne started the second half with a poor knock-on and, when Russell cleverly chipped into touch for a five-metre line-out, Stander dropped Varley's over-the-top lineout to hand Glasgow a scrum.

Something had to give and after a series of probing carries it was replacement Gordon Reid who forced his way over from close range. Russell's conversion sailed over and then the inaccuracy struck again as Hanrahan kicked the restart into touch on the full.

But Glasgow themselves handed Munster a way back in and the visitors took full advantage when Reid held on on the ground and Keatley took full advantage with a raking touch-finder.

Foley somehow reached for Varley's throw that was veering over the Glasgow side and again Downey went up the middle to suck in the defence before Stander went close and Dougall forced his way over. Keatley's conversion was off the mark. The Dubliner got Zebo out of jail when the winger was too casual in dealing with Sean Maitland's kick ahead, but Glasgow's mistakes allowed Munster recover field position and Keatley made it a one-point game when Leone Nakawara held on in the tackle.

Things grew tense, the Fijian duo of Nikola Matawalu and Nakawara almost scored a wonder try from a quick tap, but the latter then knocked on to give Munster the ball deep in their own half.

Andrew Conway was run into touch around half-way and, although a knock-on from the lineout gave Munster the ball, they couldn't penetrate as the ball flew from side to side until Hanrahan's pass was intercepted by Seymour who was caught by Zebo as he headed for the line.

A ruck offence handed Munster one last chance, but they couldn't take it as they swept from side to side until Paddy Butler spilled the ball into touch.

Scotstoun erupted to salute Glasgow's first final before the entire Warriors squad gathered in midfield, resolving one presumes to claim another Irish scalp in two weeks' time and Leinster and Ulster will have to be very good to beat them.

Munster, meanwhile, go into cold storage until they come out under a new coaching ticket in September.

There has been undoubted progress made under Penney, but there is much more for his successor to do.

GLASGOW WARRIORS – P Murchie; S Maitland, M Bennett (R Jackson 66), A Dunbar, T Seymour; F Russell, C Cusiter (N Matawalu 66); R Grant (G Reid 26), D Hall (P MacArthur 52), J Welsh (G Ross 52); J Gray, A Kellock (capt) (T Swinson 58); R Harley, C Fusaro (S Lamont 72), J Strauss (L Nakarawa 31).

MUNSTER – F Jones (JJ Hanrahan 39); K Earls, C Laulala (A Conway 9), J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 66), D Varley (capt), BJ Botha; D Foley (Donncha O'Callaghan 66), P O'Connell; CJ Stander, S Dougall (P Butler 62), J Coughlan.

REF – M Mitrea (Italy)

Irish Independent

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