Glasgow Warriors still in hunt as Leicester Tigers await

Finn Russell keeps his eye on the ball in a tussle with Munsters Rory Scannell. Picture: SNS.
Finn Russell keeps his eye on the ball in a tussle with Munsters Rory Scannell. Picture: SNS.
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The biggest game of Glasgow’s season and one of the most significant in their history ended
in an agonising last-gasp defeat but there was no sense of desolation in the aftermath.

Yes it was painful to lose such a closely-fought match in the last ten minutes as Francis
Saili’s try followed up the body blow of Stuart Hogg’s yellow card for a high tackle. But 
this was no knockout blow. Glasgow are still standing and very much in the fight 
for a first-ever place in the quarter-finals of the European
Champions Cup.

Coach Gregor Townsend and the players who faced the media afterwards were naturally a bit deflated by the outcome of such a highly built-up occasion but there was a tangible sense of belief that the march to European history had been merely delayed, not scuppered.

“It definitely is frustrating for the players,” said Townsend. “We as coaches are just sitting watching it but they are putting the tackles in. You put everything into a week to get a performance and then you have to reflect on a defeat.

“Just before the game the flags and the atmosphere were brilliant. It probably was the big game in Europe this weekend. We gave it a lot of effort but we know we can be better and that’s what we will have to be next week.”

The magnitude of this high-stakes encounter had been well trailed but there was no real surprise that it unfolded as a tense and cagey arm wrestle between two teams who know each other so well. If the single-try scoreline suggests anything dull then it would be highly misleading as this was compelling fare from the off.

The first 40 minutes played out as a kicking duel with the Warriors doubling up – Hogg stepping in for Finn Russell and taking on his usual long-range duties, nailing one and missing another. Tyler Bleyendaal landed two penalties to Russell’s one and it was 6-6 at the break.

Glasgow enjoyed their best period at the start of the second half, with Russell striving to unlock the watertight Munster defence but having to settle for another couple of penalties to Bleyendaal’s one and a wafer-thin 12-9 lead heading into the last ten minutes.

Something had to break the almost unbearable tension and the breach in the dam came with Hogg’s yellow for a high tackle on wing Andrew Conway and Saili stormed over soon after to seal the deal for the resurgent Irish province.

Russell’s failure to go for a drop goal late on became a major talking point but Townsend was immediately looking forward with positivity to Saturday’s clash with the now eliminated Leicester and another shot at glory.

Under new coach Aaron
Mauger, the Tigers were thumped by lame ducks Racing 92 at the weekend to end their hopes of progress but Townsend, pictured, is wary of a 
formidable challenge at their Welford Road fortress.

Glasgow have enjoyed glory nights at home against English opposition, the most recent being that trouncing of Leicester at the start of the campaign, but the coach is well aware that they have fallen short on English soil to the likes of Bath and Northampton recently, accruing critical damage to their prospects in the process.

“We are a better team for those experiences,” said Townsend. “Having been through those games in those environments will help. We didn’t get over the line in those games, but we did against 
Racing [in Paris] this year.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge. They will be fired up from the result here. They have a new coach and they are changing the way they play. They’re playing in front of 25,000 at home. It’s the kind of game you want to be playing in. It would have been nice to beat Munster but we have to move on and find a way to win next week.

“They have a different way of defending, a different way of playing the game [to Munster], but that doesn’t make it any easier. We’ll be playing at a venue where they have an excellent home record and they pride themselves on the contact area and the set-piece. It’s a real challenge for our group, but we will be better for this experience. We will give it everything next week.”

Townsend was gracious in his praise for victors Munster and added: “It was a really heated game, competitive, played in the right spirit.”