Glasgow seize their day to shine
Munster 13 Glasgow 31
If you are a subscriber to the idea that the perfect play-off to a league competition features the teams who finished first and second in the table then you were off to a good start at Kingspan Stadium last night.
If you wanted fireworks to attend what has been a great run-in to finish then you might have been a little disappointed, but the 17,057 who turned up on a cold, windy Belfast evening still got value for money.
The mood music in Glasgow all week has been that last season's defeat by Leinster was a dry run, that they got caught up with the occasion, and this time round would settle for just playing the game. As for their opponents, Munster's mood darkened when they lost both Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony following last week's win. It's doubtful if either or both could have swung things their way, for this was Glasgow's time.
From start to finish in this competition Gregor Townsend's side have played really good rugby. When they have done it at tempo then it has been irresistible. The pace and accuracy they got into their game in the first half here killed Munster, whose missed tackle stat at the end of the first 40 was a whopping 16. Hard to put your man down when the ball keeps shifting at speed.
The only area where Munster - who didn't play badly - had the upper hand was the set-piece, and it wasn't critical. In a nip and tuck game it might have had more significance, but three tries from Glasgow in the opening 32 minutes took us well beyond the set-piece.
By the time they got their first, through Rob Harley, Ian Keatley had missed a penalty and it must have crossed his mind that another duff day off the tee was looming after last week. So when he was presented with another shot on 24 minutes it may not have been the most difficult kick of his career but in the context of the game it was high pressure stuff, and he delivered. Unfortunately for the outhalf and his team its effect was wiped out before the Munster fans had time to appreciate the impact. It would be that sort of evening.
From the restart Glasgow regained possession almost immediately, and a lovely interchange between Henry Pyrgos and Finn Russell put Leone Nakarawa in space. His offload to the excellent DTH Van der Merwe was completed easily and the winger sped down the line to score. Typical of the way Glasgow were playing the conversion for Russell was a formality.
And six minutes later he would have the chance to make it three from three.
This time its launch pad came from what had been a promising position for Munster. They were within 30 metres of the Glasgow line when Billy Holland offered himself as a carrier only to spill the ball in contact. Glasgow's modus operandi is to look immediately to counter from gifts like this, which they did. And they didn't have to hold on to the ball through too many phases before Stuart Hogg spotted two front rowers - Eusebio Guinazu and Dave Kilcoyne - defending out wide. He picked on the prop and skated around him to open up the space for Pyrgos to finish.
It was exactly what you want in situations like that: heads-up rugby and a clinical finish.
Munster's response was typical of who they are. The venom they brought to the next five minutes of phase play was first class. It resulted in a try at last for Andrew Smith after a sequence where Glasgow could easily have lost two men to the bin. Keatley's conversion left it at 21-10 to Glasgow and Munster had something to aim at in the second half.
What they needed most in that period was to tie Glasgow down to a set-piece battle - at least to get a further tow hold in the game. A scum penalty followed by a penalty at a lineout maul was ideal. Glasgow were sweating, and glad perhaps to concede only three points and no men to the bin when they were done at two scrums five metres from thier own line.
If they were getting jumpy about Munster's momentum then the arrival of the rain won't have helped. As we saw in Limerick on Thursday, it's not exactly offloading weather. So the next time they got into scoring range it would have to involve more grunt.
That came on the hour mark when they set up camp close to Munster's line, and after a raft of close-in attacks a gap opened for Russell to scamper over. It wasn't quite game over but it would have taken a collapse from Glasgow to turn it around. Not much chance of that.
Scorers - Glasgow: Harley, van der Merwe, Pyrgos, tries, Russell try, 4 cons, Weir pen; Munster: Smith try, Keatley 2 pens, con.
Munster: F Jones; K Earls, A Smith, D Hurley (capt), S Zebo (R O'Mahon 57); I Keatley (JJ Hanrahan 57), D Williams (C Sheridan 72); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 63), E Guinazu (D Casey 63), BJ Botha (S Archer 60), B Holland (J O'Donoghue 60), P O'Connell, D Ryan, CJ Stander, P Butler (S Dougall 73)
Glasgow: S Hogg (S Lamont 63); T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe (N Matawalu 71); F Russell (D Weir 72), H Pyrgos; G Reid (J Yanuyanutawa 79), D Hall, R de Klerk (J Welsh 53), L Nakarawa (A Kellock 70), J Gray, R Harley (C Fusaro 61), J Strauss (capt), R Wilson
Referee: N Owens (Wales)
How the players rated
15. Felix Jones 6
Part of a Munster back-three which never got opportunity to show its true worth, he performed his basics reasonably well but had little or no opportunity for counter attack.
14. Keith Earls 7
In a strong vein of form lately and seems to have finally worked through his injury problems. Visibly bulkier, he mixed it well physically and was consistently threatening on limited opportunity.
13. Andrew Smith 6
Under-rated and under-appreciated footballer who does the basics well but was part of a substandard Munster defensive performance; gave his team a lifeline with try just before half-time.
12. Denis Hurley 5.5
You know what you're getting with Hurley at 12. Had little chance to show ability in possession on gainline though, and like Smith must take his share of blame for poor early defensive performance .
11. Simon Zebo 7
Always threatening when in possession, but given minimal opportunity to do so by Glasgow. Continues to show dramatically improved workrate at the less glamorous aspects of the game.
10. Ian Keatley 5
Shrugged off last week's place-kicking woes to put in a composed display from the tee but seemed to transfer the difficulties to his kicking from the hand, particularly early on. Won't be happy.
9. Duncan Williams 6
Difficult task to fill the shoes of Conor Murray - he lacks the Ireland star's physical presence; tried mightily behind a struggling forward unit, but comfortably outshone by Pyrgos.
1. Dave Kilcoyne 7.5
Underrated outside Munster due to lack of recent international exposure, but ranks alongside the best in Pro12 - industry in broken play impressive, particularly early on; can hold his head high.
2. Esteban Guinazu 7
Low-profile during most of his time in Munster, but proved his worth of late. Typically rugged Argentinian front-row display yesterday, reliable thrower at lineout and contributed to strong scrum.
3. BJ Botha 7
Selected on rotation ahead of Stephen Archer and came through impressively. Fulfilled the requirements asked of him by the coaches, and more - particularly with workrate in loose.
4. Billy Holland 5.5
An unsung hero of successive Munster squads over the past decade put in a typically whole-hearted all-round performance, but it was insufficient in the face of a rampant opposing eight.
5. Paul O'Connell 7.5
Difficult to know what to say about the great man's last day in red. Left everything on the pitch, and was by no means to blame for overall performance - on the contrary in fact. A giant of Limerick and Munster.
6. Donnacha Ryan 6.5
Great to see him back at the coalface; his workrate around the pitch and aggression at the breakdown were characteristically high - back on track for World Cup squad, but needs game-time.
8. CJ Stander 6.5
Executes the more mundane skills of the position really well, but was comprehensively outplayed by his direct opponents, particularly Josh Strauss. Not the best finish to an outstanding season for him.
7. Paddy Butler 6
An under-rated player who had begun to show his real potential in recent weeks. Contested well all-round but, as with most of his forward colleagues, never fully got to grips with the task in hand.
Coach - Anthony Foley 7
An unsuccessful finale to his debut season as head coach. Not over-endowed with squad depth and unlucky to be deprived of Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony; will rue poor tactical kicking early on.
Sunday Indo Sport