Friday 15 December 2017

Rampant Glasgow ruin O'Connell's farewell to take Pro12 title


Paul O'Connell, Munster, speaks with referee Nigel Owens.
Paul O'Connell, Munster, speaks with referee Nigel Owens.

Ruaidhri O’Connor

Munster’s wait for a trophy will now stretch to five years as Glasgow Warriors utterly dominated their Irish opponents to ruin Paul O’Connell’s farewell and claim the Guinness Pro12 title.

Led by their brilliant Fijian second-row Leone Nakarawa, the team who finished top of the table were by far the better team at Kingspan Stadium playing the more energetic, creative brand of rugby from start to finish.

They scored three first-half tries to Munster’s one as Anthony Foley’s men struggled in the absence of Conor Murray and captain Peter O’Mahony.

Andrew Smith’s try gave them a lifeline and they looked like mounting a serious comeback after the break, but their error count was far too high and the excellent Finn Russell put it to bed with 20 minutes remaining.

The damage was done in the first 40 which was described by former Munster player Alan Quinlan as a “shocking” performance as the Reds couldn’t handle the Scots’ off-loading game.

Having lost last year’s final, this was a deserved first triumph for the growing Glaswegian club and their brilliant coach Gregor Townsend. Leinster could do worse than calling the former Lions out-half.

For Anthony Foley, it was a sobering reminder of the journey his side still have to take without O’Connell on board next season. The second-row was one of the few to perform for his side who were second-best in almost every facet of the game besides the scrum.

Munster had the wind at their backs from the kick-off, but that natural advantage counted for little as Glasgow took the game to them from the off, playing with pace and ambition whenever they could.

Ian Keatley missed an early sighter when Dave Kilcoyne forced a penalty on the right touchline, but with the Scottish side putting Duncan Williams under huge pressure at the breakdown it wasn’t long before they took the lead.

DTH van der Merwe almost stole in from long range only for Denis Hurley to execute a superb, despairing tap-tackle, but a crooked lineout throw from Eusebio Guinazu handed them the opportunity, with a solid scrum allowing Henry Pyrgos find the Canadian who took the ball up hard, before Jonny Gray fed Leone Nakarawa.

There didn’t appear to be much on for the rangy Fijian lock, but that wasn’t how he saw it; blasting Felix Jones out of his way, before taking Williams’ tackle and off-loading to Rob Harley who dotted down under the posts.

Finn Russell added the extras and, although Ian Keatley pulled a penalty back for the Reds and Keith Earls might have scored a try after good work from Jones, they were undone almost immediately from the kick-off the Warriors stuck again.

An aimless kick from Keatley was returned with interest by Josh Strauss, before Pyrgos and Russell combined well and Nakarawa followed up by steamrolling Williams and passing to Van der Merwe out of O’Connell and Earls’ tackle. The winger shrugged off Keatley to score in the corner and, again, Russell made no mistake.

Things were beginning to get embarrassing for Foley’s charges as Glasgow began to toy with them with a series of flicks, tricks and offloads that led to their third first-half try.

This time it was Stuart Hogg who did the damage, spotting Kilcoyne in open country and burning the prop on the outside, before fixing Simon Zebo and putting Pyrgos in under the posts.

Russell converted to give his side an 18 point cushion, but they couldn’t take that into the break, thanks largely to Williams whose executed a pair of fringe breaks to put his side in position and the pressure told when Andrew Smith picked up a loose ball, bounced Tommy Seymour and carried a couple of Warriors over the line.

Keatley’s conversion made it 21-10 at the break and the out-half narrowed the gap further as Munster put the squeeze on with their maul and superior scrum after half-time. O’Connell was held up over the line, but a scrum penalty allowed the Dubliner reduce the deficit to eight with half an hour on the clock.

Then, the heavens opened and although Munster were playing into the elements it was the Warriors who would have to curtail their ambition.

A breakdown in midfield almost allowed Zebo hack ahead and collect, but he was beaten for speed by Seymour and the subsequent lineout maul was comfortably dealt with by Glasgow who escaped when Paddy Butler went off his feet.

That escape allowed Glasgow some field position and the Warriors made it pay. Russell messed up when Kilcoyne’s spill handed him an opportunity, but he made up for it a couple of minutes later when he followed up a series of forward carries with try as Munster tired.

He converted his own try and the Irish side were left with a mountain to climb and the summit proved well beyond their abilities. 

Duncan Weir added a penalty after Munster’s reserve front-row collapsed in front of their own posts to close out the win and, when the final whistle went, the large, noisy contingent who had made their way from Scotland made their voices heard.

Away from it all, O’Connell said his goodbyes. It wasn’t how he’d have wanted it to end, but he owes his province nothing.

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)

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