It’s been a trying time in re-cent weeks for the extended family that is Munster rugby.
Eight days ago many of thethe club including Anthony Foley were attending the funeral of former coach Declan Kidney’s wife, little suspecting that they would be looking out their black ties and good suits again just one week later.
The death of Foley has inevitably dominated the build-up to this match .
Gregor Townsend attended Foley’s funeral yesterday afternoon in the little village of Killloe as radio stationsacross the land simultaneously broadcast Fields of Athenry. Glasgow will participate in any tribute to Foley before and/or after this match to mark the passing of the great man as Jonny Gray confirmed.
“It’s been a terrible week,” said the Glasgow co-captain. “It’s such a huge loss, such a rugby legend. It just shows the strength of rugby throughout the world that we’ve all come together. You can only imagine what his family are going through and everyone involved at Munster.
“Coming here is always a huge challenge. These European games are always very special and there’s going to be a huge atmosphere there. We know we’ll need to be wholly focused. It’s going to be a huge battle and it always has been against Munster. We need to control the things that we can control. Thomond Park is a special occasion. We know it’s going to be emotional and we’ll pay our respects before and after the game. It’s a celebration as well and it’s an honour to be involved in it.”
Townsend has faced some challenges in his time but navigating his players through the appropriate respect for the bereavement of a local legend in the pre-match preliminaries before adopting the aggression required to win a European tie at Thomond Park once the whistle blows would test anyone.
Glasgow’s record against Irish competition in this tournament is not great and Townsend’s is even worse, the coach having lost 100 per cent of all Irish matches in Europe although, in fairness, there have been only two to date.
In season 2012/13, Townsend’s first in the post, Glasgow lost home and away to Ulster.
The Glasgow coach has kept changes to a minimum for this match after his side humiliated Leicester in the opening round. Two-try hero and man of the match Leonardo Sarto has dropped out with a shoulder injury to be replaced by Sean Lamont, who ensures a physical presence on both wings since Rory Hughes occupies the opposite flank.
After feeling crook in the warm-up before the Tigers match last Friday, Alex Dunbar makes a welcome return to the No 13 shirt where he partners Sam Johnson, who has obviously passed all the head-injury protocols after leaving the field midway through the Leicester match.
That means no place in the starting fifteen for Mark Bennett despite his late try and all round excellence.
Elsewhere things are unchanged with the same pack of forwards who gave Leicester a hurry up and will hope to do the same again this afternoon; the back three trio of Ryan Wilson, Rob Harley and Josh Strauss are asked to repeat their heroics of last weekend.
Should things not go according to plan, Simone Favaro is listed on the bench in place of the teenager Matt Fagerson and, unlike the starting trio, the Italian international is an out and out “fetcher”.
Peter Murchie also comes onto the bench with centre Nick Grigg droping out of tyhe match day twenty-three altoghether after enhancing his reputation in weekend’s lopsided result. But despite inflicting the Tigers’ biggest ever defeat in Europe Gray reveals that the Glasgow debrief was more than just self congratulations on a job well done.
“We were very happy with the result but we came off the pitch thinking there were a lot of things we didn’t do right, which is a surreal feeling. To have won a game against such a great team like Leicester and all they’ve done in Europe and in the Premiership and come off and then come in on Monday morning and we’re disappointed with things! That’s one of the things about the culture of the club, we’re never satisfied even when there are things we’ve done well. Our European record is poor. We’ve never qualified, but it’s something we need to take game by game. We have to be fully focused.
“We’ll get to pay our respects to a great man before and after the game, and our thoughts especially go to his family, but we can’t let that distract us.”
If they can repeat last weekend’s performance amongst all the emotion inside Thomond park, Glasgow will be sitting pretty.