Glasgow (21) 31.
Tries: Harley, van der Merwe, Pyrgos, Russell. Cons: Russell 4.
Munster (10) 13.
Tries: Smith. Cons: Keatley. Pens: Keatley 2.
In the last four seasons Glasgow have finished the regular season in fourth, third, second and, this season, first place. It is simple to say they were destined to win this one but it still took a brilliant performance in attack and defence to land the long-awaited booty.
It wasn’t so much the win that delighted the legions of fans who turned Kingspan Stadium blue and black, one end of it at any rate, but the manner of the victory far outweighed even the most optimistic assessments. Glasgow tore their illustrious opposition to shreds, dismantled and discombobulated Munster with a first-half performance that had the Irishmen in danger of disappearing under a tsunami of tries.
Glasgow managed three in total, although it could have been double that, with Leone Nakarawa providing the creative influence for the first two of them which fell to Rob Harley and DTH van der Merwe, the club’s leading try scorer adding to his tally on his final appearance.
The big Fijian lock was the stand-out player on the pitch, making the Munster legend that is Paul O’Connell look ordinary by comparison and fully vindicating Gregor Townsend’s decision to pick him ahead of Al Kellock and keep hold of him next season when several others, including Niko Matawalu, are heading for the exit.
“Leone is Leone!” said Glasgow skipper Josh Strauss with impeccable logic. “Him and Niko are the same type, you never know what they are going to do, you just try and play off them. When they do something you just want to get on their side and get the ball off them.
“He [Nakarawa] had an immense game and that is what we have come to expect from him. He stepped up and showed his character in a big game like this and he is still young. A player like that is going to have a great, great future.”
Not only did the big Fijian carve out Glasgow’s opening two scores, body blows which knocked the stuffing and the belief out of the red shirts, but he showed some handy footwork in the second half when the side footed the ball to a colleague knowing he hadn’t time to pick it up.
On this form England had better look lively when they host Fiji first up in the opening tie of the World Cup.
Stuart Hogg carved out some space for Henry Pyrgos to score Glasgow’s third on 32 minutes and it was testament to Glasgow’s superiority that the fullback could have used Tommy Seymour on his outside instead of opting for the scrum-half inside him.
With their pride pricked, Munster muscled their way back into the game either side of half- time. Ian Keatley had kicked an early penalty and Andrew Smith barged his way over the Glasgow line just before the break to keep his side hanging onto the Warriors’ coat tails. O’Connell looked like he might have scored after some intense pressure in the opening minutes of the second 40 but Glasgow got bodies under the ball and Munster had to make do with another penalty.
“They are a great team,” Strauss said. “They have shown how well they can play all season. We never expected them just to lie down. After we scored the first few tries they fought back brilliantly.
“It’s an old rugby cliché but the ten minutes before half-time and the ten minutes after half-time was very important and they controlled a lot of that. But it shows the character of the guys to fight back and get control of the game. After the try they scored [we were] a little bit loose, a few loose kicks etc, but we grabbed it back.”
Glasgow out-munstered Munster for their fourth try. They laid siege to the Irishmen’s line and showed infinite patience as they probed for weaknesses one way and then the other until eventually, after umpteen phases, a huge gap opened up like Aladdin’s cave for Finn Russell who scored Glasgow’s final try.
The match was won but it wasn’t Glasgow’s skipper on the day that lifted the trophy. Instead it was Glasgow’s leader for the last decade who was given that very particular honour.
“It was always going to be Al’s [Kellock],” said Strauss simply. “We had a chat earlier in the week, me and Al, and what a great send-off for him.
“I think at the back of our minds we all did it for those players, not only big Al, but for everyone else leaving, even Shade Munro, the coach who has been here for ages. Great guys, part of the family and for us it’s great to give them that trophy to end their career with.”
Kellock appeared for the final 15 minutes of the match when he managed to nick a lineout throw from his old rival O’Connell which summed things up for Munster.
Duncan Weir kicked a late penalty and, trailing by several scores, the Irishmen attempted to emulate their opponents in the final quarter, going against the grain and throwing the ball about in the search for a try to spark an unlikely fightback.
It was like watching a dog ride a bicycle… thoroughly entertaining but for all the wrong reasons.
Scorers: Munster: Try: Smith. Con: Keatley. Pens: Keatley 2. Glasgow: Tries: Harley, Van der Merwe, Pyrgos, Russell. Cons: Russell 4. Pen: Weir.
Munster: Jones, Earles, Smith, Hurley, Zebo (O’Mahony 56); Keatley (Hanrahan 56), Williams (Sheridan 72); Kilcoyne (Cronin 62), Guinazu (Casey 62), Botha, Holland, O’Connell, Ryan, Butler (Dougall 72), Stander.
Glasgow: Hogg (Lamont 62), Van der Merwe (Matawalu 70), Vernon, Horne, Seymour; Russell Weir 67), Pyrgos; Reid (Yanuyanutawa 77), Hall, De Klerk (Welsh 52), Gray, Nakarawa (Kellock 67), Harley (Fusaro 60), Wilson, Strauss.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU). Attendance: 17,057.