GREGOR Townsend hailed his history-makers last night, but warned that, momentous as their 16-15 win over Munster was, they still had to finish the job in the RaboDirect PRO12 final.
The coach took over from Sean Lineen two years ago in what was viewed as a controversial move by the SRU, Townsend having coached only as an assistant with Scotland. However, having been pipped by Leinster in the RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final in Dublin last season, he steered his side to a first-ever final in his second term and acknowledged that it was a sublime high point.
Asked if this was the brightest moment in a coaching career that brought him from Scotland to Glasgow, Townsend said: “Absolutely. To be involved in a game like that when the players put everything into it, not just the effort in defence and the tackling, but the skill and ambition is fantastic. Munster played top-quality rugby, coming at us right away and going 7-0 up and they carried on playing well, but we played well, too, and it was a top-quality match, so to get the win is fantastic.”
Townsend had made bold calls in leaving Scotland and Lions full-back Stuart Hogg and Scotland stand-off Duncan Weir out of his squad, but his faith in Peter Murchie and Finn Russell in the 15 and ten jerseys was proved to be justified as both played crucial roles, Russell leading the line well and pulling Glasgow back into the game with three first-half penalties.
A try by prop Gordon Reid took Glasgow ahead, but they had to withstand a furious final assault by the former league and Heineken Cup champions, in front of a record 10,000 capacity crowd at Scotstoun.
“I think it was important that we were ahead going into the final stages,” said Townsend, “because Munster have been in those situations for the last 10-15 years and when they get ahead it’s tough to get that lead back.
“I never thought it would go to extra-time because of the nature of the scoring, which was good because I don’t think we’d have had 15 players left on the field after the end of the game, but we just had to keep our discipline because in a game like that one penalty could have cost us, so the effort at the end to keep them out was good.
“Our players have worked so hard and to have this crowd behind us gave the players a lot of energy. I am overjoyed for the players and I just said to them that I have never seen a team play for each other so much, and I’ve played for a few clubs. The determination to put their bodies on the line at the end there was phenomenal, and it was a whole squad effort because the impact of the subs was huge. We knew when we lost players in the first half that our bench would be under pressure, but the players all stood up to it well and I’m glad that all 23 men contributed.”
His captain Alastair Kellock provided another masterful leader’s performance before being replaced on the hour, and he admitted: “That was incredibly hard work and incredibly sapping. I have said before that in every semi-final we’ve played in we’ve left nothing on the park, and we did that again in this one and this time it proved to be enough. That first half was very, very fast, and they just kept on coming at us, but the crowd gave us a tremendous lift and I have to say thanks to them all for that.
“We played a very good team and we knew they’d be confrontational but to a man we fronted up and put ourselves in a fantastic position and I hope we bring the final to Glasgow. If we do have it back here then I want the fans to pack the place out and if we’re away then book your holidays and come over.”
Glasgow will discover tonight who they will face in the first league final to feature a Scottish team when Leinster host Ulster in Dublin. If Leinster win, they will host the final, but if Ulster emerge victorious Glasgow’s superior league position will bring the final to Scotland.
Glasgow and the SRU are considering Ibrox and Celtic Park as Scotstoun does not meet the 18,000 capacity demanded by the league and Murrayfield is being resurfaced.