Pro12: Ghost of Munster’s glory nailed by Glasgow

Niko Matawalu. Picture: SNS
Niko Matawalu. Picture: SNS
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After doing everything but win in Dublin last weekend, Glasgow needed a victory over Munster on Friday night but they managed an exorcism into the bargain.

The ghost of Munster’s past glories made a fleeting appearance before it was finally laid to rest in a one-sided second half.

Glasgow have beaten Munster before but they have never humbled them, un-manned them in a way that Munster have done to so many others in the past. It is a little too soon to be trumpeting a sea change in the balance of power on either side of the Irish Sea but there is no question that the axis has shifted eastwards.

Glasgow led at half-time thanks to two interception tries and two penalties but, for the first 40 minutes, Munster looked a little like their old selves, at least if you screwed your eyes up and squinted. Paul O’Connell made a nuisance of himself, Ronan O’Gara’s clever chip kicks caused panic in the home defence.

If the first half was all too familiar, Munster were horribly exposed after the break.

The unremitting, muscular excellence that has kept the province at the forefront of Europe for well over a decade has withered away until all that is left is a core of cheating. Like the Cheshire cat that fades to a grin, Munster’s greatness has slowly seeped away until only the over-riding cynicism is left and still they get away with it. Donnacha O’Callaghan spent more time holding players off the ball than tackling men with it.

Whenever Glasgow were awarded a penalty an Irishman would get his hands on the ball and refuse to give it to the increasingly animated Glasgow scrum-half Niko Matawalu, below. An unseemly scrap would then take place, which is exactly what Munster wanted, because the referee would take two players to one side and give them a warning which enabled the visitors time to man their defensive positions. If you think that interpretation is too cynical by half then remember Andy Robinson’s remark, “nothing happens on a rugby field by accident”.

It mattered not a jot on the night because Glasgow produced a second half performance that was the best 40 minutes of rugby that anyone could remember, scoring four more tries, playing with a pace and accuracy that first removed Munster’s composure and then stripped away what remained of their pride. It was an awesome display and at times it looked like the two teams were playing two entirely different games.

If Glasgow initially struggled with the power that Munster’s big men can still generate then the visitors simply had no answer to the pace and incision that Gregor Townsend’s team bring to the party. If there is a more dangerous back three trio than DTH Van der Merwe, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg then it doesn’t jump to mind.

This was potentially much more than just one impressive win. Six thousand enthusiastic, vocal and partisan fans packed into Scotstoun, corporate guests filled the hospitality room while television and radio broadcast live coverage of a successful Scottish side. At the end of 80 minutes all the locals were wreathed in smiles and it was just possible to imagine a brighter future for Scotland’s Pro teams.