Glasgow Warriors made history on Friday night by reaching the Rabodirect Pro12 final for the first time in the club’s history. The achievement was made all the more sweet by a typically gritty and hard fought win over arguably one of Europe’s top sides, Munster. In an ebb and flow match, the hosts made home advantage pay at Scotstoun as they ran out 16-15 winners to a rapturous reception.
Coming into the match, it was clear that despite their reputation, Munster were the underdogs; especially having lost at home to a largely inexperienced Ulster outfit the previous week. Glasgow on the other hand, came into the encounter on the back of an eight match winning streak, and with their first home semi final, seemed likely to extend that run. Munster chose a strong pack despite some obvious exceptions to injury – Peter O’Mahony’s absence since the 6 nations having a profound effect in particular – with most of their first choice players available. Keith Earls, Felix Jones and Simon Zebo provided significant cause for concern for the home fans and they were prominent throughout. Glasgow’s selection stood out not for those playing as so much as who were not. Coach Gregor Townsend surprisingly left out Scottish internationalists Duncan Weir and Stuart Hogg; opting to start Finn Russell and Peter Murchie respectively.
It should hardly have been a surprise that Glasgow came out of the blocks quickly, but yet Munster seemed almost overwhelmed in the opening five minutes. More possession and accurate territorial kicking from Ian Keatley meant the visitors could camp deep in the Glasgow half at last. And they scored first too; Captain Damian Varley snuck over on the near side after a relentless first Irish attack with Keatley converting. A Finn Russell penalty closed the gap to four points but signs were ominous for Glasgow.
The game had become very stop-start with neither side able to seize momentum. Munster found space behind the defensive line and Keatley prodded deft kicks to secure vital territory to increase the pressure on Glasgow. Munster found themselves pressing the line within minutes and if not for a disallowed Zebo try, would have extended their lead.
Glasgow proved more than capable of creating scoring chances of their own – with Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland providing much of the conduit – but handling errors at crucial times meant they had to rely on penalty chances arising. And they did once more
Russell had been slightly off colour kicking wise with two misses but he was able to pull back another three points thanks largely to Munster’s indiscipline; the fly-half reducing the deficit to just the solitary point on 35 minutes.
And with it, Glasgow seemed to find some insurgency at last as Mark Bennett seized the ball from the Munster restart. Munster managing to turn the ball over (with Glasgow at 14 temporarily) and through Keatley once more were able to launch a dangerous attack. Solid Glasgow defence ensured no further points were scored against them, and somewhat against the run of play, orchestrated a scoring opportunity of their own. Munster again conceding a penalty, this time on their own 10 metre line; Russell dually slotted the kick and the hosts went in at half time 9-7 leaders.
In what was always going to be a tight encounter, momentum was key, and Glasgow gathered some early on in the second half. After only five minutes and several stabs at the Munster line, replacement prop Gordon Reid barged his way over for a textbook pick and go try in the left hand corner. Certainly the low body position of Reid proved decisive in scurrying underneath the attempted tackles of JJ Hanrahan and Coughlan; Glasgow now lead 16-7 thanks to Russell’s superb touchline conversion.
In true Munster fashion however, the retaliation was immediate and despite putting the restart out on the full, they managed to launch an attack deep into Glasgow territory. From a penalty lineout, Munster went through a series of short phases, with centre James Downey providing a much needed surge forward towards the line. From then on Glasgow were stretched defensively and simple hands put flank forward Sean Dougall in for an easy try. Keatley missed the conversion and the score stayed at 16-12.
Nerves began to affect the play of both teams with Glasgow seemingly unable to construct an attack without conceding a penalty and Munster making more and more handling errors. A penalty for not releasing the tackler gave Keatley a chance to reduce the gap to one point after 65 minutes, which he duly did.
Neither team particularly had any scoring chances in the remaining fifteen minutes but the intensity of the tackling and breakdown was that akin to a test match. With just a point separating the two sides, the stakes were incredibly high; one mistake and a place in the final was gone. Munster were out on their feet and Glasgow were more than happy to defend on the half way line, pushing the visitors back wherever possible. A loose pass from JJ Hanrahan behind the gain line found no-one but Tommy Seymour who endeavoured to run in a try from forty metres. He was hauled down by Zebo but Glasgow were in exactly the right area of the pitch. Munster won a penalty and cleared, and in the final minute tried in vain to conjure something of a miracle. Glasgow defended superbly and ushered Conor Murray into touch to euphoric scenes.
Glasgow will now face defending champions Leinster in the Grand Final on Saturday 31st May at the RDS in Dublin.
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