Monday 20 November 2017

Home Champions Cup quarter-final beckons for Munster after yet more late heroics in Glasgow

Glasgow 12 Munster 14

14 January 2017; Francis Saili of Munster goes over to score his side's first try during the European Rugby Champions Cup pool 1 round 5 match between Glasgow Warriors and Munster at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
14 January 2017; Francis Saili of Munster goes over to score his side's first try during the European Rugby Champions Cup pool 1 round 5 match between Glasgow Warriors and Munster at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Forgotten man Francis Saili was the Munster hero as Rassie Erasmus's men joined Leinster in the the European Champions Cup quarter-finals thanks to a hard fought win over Glasgow Warriors.

After watching Jaco Taute star from the sidelines all season, the recently returned All Black came on for the Springbok centre and scored the winning try with eight minutes remaining at Scotstoun.

It was a fine finish on a rare foray into enemy territory for the Irish side who were under pressure for long periods of a closely contested game, but it was enough to get the job done.

This wasn't the prettiest of Munster's 12 wins in 13 games, but it is the one that will leave them most satisfied as they dealt with every attacking threat the Scots threw at them on a tense, cold evening in Glasgow.

Jacques Nienaber will take most of the plaudits after his resolute defence once again held firm against a Warriors side who gave their all in an attempt to wrest control of Pool 1 from their visitors' gasp.

Instead, it is the two-time champions who will go in search of a home quarter-final when they welcome Racing 92 to Thomond Park next Saturday and few would bet against them getting their wish with the Top 14 side long gone from contention.

Glasgow started with real intent and Conor Murray got an important hand in to deny Finn Russell as the out-half attempted to collect his own chip with the line beckoning.

The Scotland pivot did open the scoring from the tee after Dave Kilcoyne was penalised for collapsing the scrum and after dominating the opening exchanges the home side took the lead.

The Munster loosehead levelled matters at the next scrum, forcing a penalty off Zander Fagerson but Tyler Bleyendaal was short with his effort from half-way.

The New Zealander made no mistake with his next effort after Lee Jones went high on Keith Earls and after spending much of the opening quarter under the cost, the visitors found themselves level.

A rare slip in concentration from CJ Stander handed the initiative back to the hosts.

The Ireland star dropped the kick-off and, while a big Conor Murray shot on Ali Price stopped the first attack off the scrum, a knock-on by the visiting scrum-half handed Glasgow a second bite but again the red wall held firm.

Back came Munster, Andrew Conway brilliantly claiming a well-placed Murray bomb over Stuart Hogg and when Rory Scannell kicked in behind Russell's return went straight into touch.

A neat lineout move saw Stander surge deep into the Glasgow '22 and this time it was the Warriors' turn to show defensive steel as they repelled phase after phase of red jerseys through 12 phases before Jean Kleyn was penalised for holding on on the ground under pressure.

Jack O'Donoghue was guilty of the same offence minutes later and Hogg nailed the long-range penalty to put his since back in front but a stupid concession from Josh Strauss, followed by lip to take the ball 10m closer, handed Bleyendaal a chance to instantly cancel that out.

Hogg was wide with his next effort from half-way after Donnacha Ryan went high on Ryan Wilson, meaning the sides went in at half-time level at six-all.

Both sides looked to play after half-time, but Munster's initial spell of pressure came to an end with an unforced Simon Zebo knock-on, before Keith Earls picked off Mark Bennett's pass to end a promising Glasgow attack.

A superb delayed pass from Russell sent Tim Swinson through a big hole and when Conway got caught on the wrong side after tackling the second row, the out-half put his side back in front, but again the lead didn't last long as Fraser Brown failed to release in the tackle and Bleyendaal levelled things up.

Knowing they needed a win to gain control of the pool, Glasgow upped the intensity and Munster needed a brilliant Stander turnover to relieve the pressure after nice work from Price sent Hogg through a gap.

They had to settle for a fourth Russell penalty after Stander came in the side of a forward-moving maul and they took a slender lead into the final quarter.

It was one they couldn't hold on to as an error from Price, who box-kicked out on the full handed Munster the field position they had been waiting for.

The men in red mauled their way into the '22, before working their way through a series of phases with close-in carries. Finally, the call came from Bleyendaal to move the ball wide where Conway was waiting.

The winger cut inside Hogg, but the Scottish full-back's flailing arm a caught him in the face and Jones got across to hold him.

After reviewing the play, English referee Luke Pearce issued Hogg with a yellow card but stopped short of awarding a penalty try so Peter O'Mahony went for the corner.

The maul went nowhere, but Munster kept their focus and Bleyendaal moved the ball out wide to Zebo who off-loaded to Earls. The Limerickman straightened and spotted the looping Francis Saili and the All Black was not going to be stopped en route to the corner.

Bleyendaal's conversion sailed wide to leave the home side within two points and despite their numerical disadvantage they came back at Munster hard but they were undone by their own decision making, with Russell opting to kick possession away with numbers out wide after a huge Tim Swinson carry.

With that, the chance was gone and Munster stepped back into the European elite with momentum firmly behind them.

GLASGOW WARRIORS -- S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett (N Grigg 63), A Dunbar, L Jones; F Russell, A Price; G Reid (A Allan 78), F Brown (P McArthur 62), Z Fagerson (D Rae 78); T Swinson, J Gray (capt); R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss (C Fusaro 68).

MUNSTER --  S Zebo (I Keatley 74); A Conway, J Taute (F Saili 58), R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 65-71 HIA); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 49), N Scannell (R Marshall 67), J Ryan (T du Toit 61); J Kleyn (B Holland 55), D Ryan; P O'Mahony (capt) (D Foley 74), J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.

Referee: L Pearce (RFU).

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