THEY DID it, fourth-time lucky for Glasgow, not that there was much luck in this hard earned, bruising semi-final victory that sees the Warriors through to their first ever league final a fortnight today.
Scorers: Glasgow: Try: Reid. Conv: Russell. Pen: Russell (3) Munster: Try: Varley, Dougall. Conv: Keatley. Pen: Keatley.
Referee: M Mitrea (FIR).
This was an edgy, nervous affair which could have gone either way.
Munster scored two tries, and had a third wiped off, to just one from the home team but
Gregor Townsend’s men showed enormous spirit when they needed a rare combination of discipline and bravery to defend a slender one-point lead for the final 15 minutes.
Jonny Gray won the man of the match award but frankly any one of the 23-strong Glasgow squad would have been worthy winners and Finn Russell kicked 11 points, every one of them vital, with four from five in front of the posts.
The early exchanges were a stalemate with both defences on top of the attack when Gray was pinged for holding after a tackle and Ian Keatley’s boot earned Munster an attacking lineout no more than 15 metres from the Glasgow line.
Munster won the ball, Keith Earls and Alex Dunbar had a scuffle behind the posts and, following a few pick and drives Munster skipper Damien Varley burrowed over the Glasgow line despite the close attention of several blue shirts. The TMO, Carlo Damasco, was woken from his slumbers and after looking at several issues in the build-up he declared the try good and with Ian Keatley adding the extras Munster had the start they wanted.
Damasco deserved overtime after this game because the referee seemed incapable of making any crucial decision even when perfectly placed as he was for Varley’s try.
Glasgow had the wind at their backs but they kept the ball in hand and backed themselves against the Munster defence that had their game face on. Not only did Glasgow’s attack get no change from the visitors but when Munster got hands on the ball they looked the more dangerous side and they thought they had a second try when Simon Sebo cut a clever line against the grain and looked to have scored only for the TMO to declare otherwise.
It was a bruising and full-blooded game with both sides suffering early casualties. Casey Laulau and Felix Jones both limped off in the first half for the visitors and Glasgow lost Josh Strauss after half an hour with Leone Nakarawa a very handy replacement.
Glasgow enjoyed their best period as the first half wound down. The big home forwards eventually made a few dents in the red brick wall and earned Russell two shots at goal in the final five minutes of the half, one at a breakdown, the other at a set scrum. The fly-half made no mistake and, added the shot he kicked early on, Glasgow went into the break nursing a slender 9-7 lead. In what was a low scoring match the next try was going to be important and when it came five minutes after the restart it was Glasgow fans who were cheering from the rafters.
Russell kicked beautifully to the corner and Munster guddled their get-out play to give Glasgow an attacking five metre scrum. The ball squirted out, Glasgow attacked the blind side and two plays later replacement prop Gordon Reid was bundled over in the left-hand corner with the help of Nakarawa. Russell made the touchline conversion and from being on the ropes late in the first half, Glasgow suddenly found themselves with a nine-point lead early in the second.
They didn’t have long to enjoy it as Munster responded almost immediately. From an attacking lineout they ran a couple of plays and scored with what must have been worrying ease for the Glasgow coaches.
Sean Dougall found himself one-on-one with Peter Murchie who could do nothing to stop the flanker from barrelling over.
Munster had a rumble with CJ Stander knocking holes in the Glasgow line and at the other end of the field Sean Maitland got a half-chance with a kick and chase when Zebo made a hash of securing the bobbling ball. Glasgow threw every single player bar the half-backs into an attacking lineout only for Pat MacArthur to throw the ball in squint.
Keatley narrowed the gap by another three points when Glasgow failed to release the tackled man and with 15 minutes still to play it was a one-point game.
Townsend threw Ruaridh Jackson and Niko Matawalu into the fray and the little Fijian made an immediate impact with a quick tap free-kick and a flip pass to his fellow Fijian Nakarawa. Munster patiently built an attack only for Donnacha O’Callaghan to spill a pass. Tommy Seymour plucked an interception out of the air and set off for the Munster line only to have Zebo chase him down short. Glasgow conceded another penalty and, inside the final minute, Munster had one last chance.
It was agony for the capacity 10,000 crowd but eventually Glasgow forced a Munsterman and the ball into the sidelines and Scotstoun erupted. Should Ulster beat Leinster today, the final will be in Glasgow and it will have to go some to beat yesterday evening’s drama.
Glasgow: Murchie, Maitland, Bennett (Jackson 65), Dunbar, Seymour; Russell, Cusiter (Matawalu 65); Grant (Reid 25), Hall (MacArthur 54), Welsh (Cross 54), Gray, Kellock (Swinson 57), Harley, Fusaro (Lamont 71 mins), Strauss (Nakarawa 30).
Munster: Jones (Hanrahan 35), Earls, Laulau (Conway 10), Downey, Zebo; Keatley, Murray; Kilcoyne (Cronin 65), Varley, Botha, Foley (O’Callahgan 65), O’Connell, Stander, Dougall (Butler 61), Coughlan.