Five vital steps to glory in Belfast
AS IF anyone was in any doubt about how and where Munster intend to win today’s Guinness Pro 12 final, the inclusion by coach Anthony Foley of three locks at the expense of a flanker in the province’s pack tells us all we need to know.
For his part, Gregor Townsend has made a brave decision, dropping Adam Ashe from the matchday squad, and he too has beefed up his forward eight, starting the diminutive Chris Fusaro on the bench, while fielding two blindside flankers from the off in Rob Harley and Ryan Wilson; specialist tacklers, rugby’s equivalent of “Chopper” Harris.
Here are five things that Glasgow must accomplish if they are to emerge from the Kingspan Stadium tonight with the first silverware of the professional era.
1 MATCH MUNSTER’s MUSCLE
There are precious few secrets in rugby and, if Munster have a plan B, you can be sure it will only come into operation after they have exhausted each and every facet of plan A first.
Munster will send the heavy cavalry down the 10/12 channel, they will squeeze Glasgow at the set scrum, where they had Ulster on the rack, and, with three locks in the back five forwards, the men in red will pressure Glasgow’s throw at the lineout, which has recently looked like it was constructed of Jenga rather than Meccano.
Most importantly, Munster will maul, they will drive the lineout, a tactic which brought them three (arguably four) tries against Edinburgh some weeks ago. Glasgow know it is coming but will they be able to stop it and, more importantly, will they be able to stop it legally?
2 PLAY KEEP-BALL
It sounds simple enough, but with the opposition defence flying up at you, leaving nano-seconds in which to make decisions, it is increasingly difficult to keep possession.
Why is it important? Well, because Glasgow are a little like Leinster. They get hold of the ball and go up through the gears, changing the point and angle of attack with every move and trusting in speed of delivery at the breakdown to keep the opposition on the back foot. It is a winning formula but one fumble ruins the hard work and Glasgow have made a lot more than one unforced handling error in their last two outings.
Glasgow went through 14 phases before DTH van der Merwe scored the winner against Ulster last weekend. Before that move they had barely managed four. They need to keep hold of the ball this evening.
3 PLAY THE PERCENTAGES
This doesn’t mean kick the leather off the ball, because if you give possession away to Munster you might not get it back for a while. Instead, Glasgow have to box clever with decision making: when to kick short, kick long and when to keep the ball in hand, which is the team’s preferred modus operandi.
Much of the decision making will rest upon stand-off Finn Russell, who showed in the semi-final that he has the vision and the nerves to be a matchwinner. Russell’s decision-making needs to be spot on, pragmatic but alive to all possibilities. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk.
4 PAPER OVER THE CRACKS
If Glasgow succeed this evening in Belfast, it will be worth remembering that they did so without two of the most potent attacking weapons in the Pro 12, Mark Bennett and Alex Dunbar. The loss of their two starting centres means Glasgow must tweak the way they play because their replacements will make fewer clean breaks in the midfield, which alters angles of support for the forwards and puts a greater emphasis on the back three to find space. Up front, the loss of Ryan Grant will hurt Glasgow even though he hasn’t been at his best of late but Gordon Reid might yet emerge as the star of the show if he can keep a lid on Springbok BJ Botha.
5 TAKE THEIR CHANCES
Munster are usually remorseless, squeezing the opposition, haranguing the referee and milking penalties where they can do the most damage. The opposition watches the scoreboard tick over 3, 6, 9, 12 and it isn’t long before their heads drop. The only reason the Ospreys almost won that semi-final was because Munster managed just two from eight off the tee. Russell has shown he can do the business off the tee for Glasgow but the forwards have to be in the opposition half before they can do the damage, which is why the territorial battle is key.
In the regular season, Munster conceded just 1.4 tries per match. Glasgow might only get three or four try-scoring opportunities this evening and you fancy they will need to convert at least a couple if they are to emerge triumphant.