Glasgow 51-24 Munster: Glasgow top Pro12 table

GLASGOW claimed a stunning six-try win over a strong Munster side at Scotstoun last night that showed them to be genuine title contenders.

Scorers: Glasgow: Tries – Maitland, Matawalu, Jackson, Bennett, Hogg, Barclay; Pens – Jackson 2; Cons - Jackson 4, Weir 2. Munster: Tries – Laulala, Kilcoyne, Howlett; Pens - O’Gara; Cons – O’Gara 2, Keatley.

They led from the first minute and were ahead by six points at the break, but for spells in the game Munster’s pack threatened to haul them back into an arm-wrestle. Finally, the Warriors broke the Munster spirit with three tries in the last ten minutes to leave a near-6,000 Scotstoun rocking and Munster reeling at their heaviest defeat in nearly a decade. The result virtually guarantees Glasgow a place in the end-of-season play-offs, but also pushes them to within touching distance of a home semi-final with three games remaining.

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Munster handed Glasgow the perfect start when centre Casey Laulala threw a loose pass wide and Sean Maitland streaked out of the line to grasp it and race in from 30 metres, Ruaridh Jackson converting to put the hosts 7-0 up with only a minute played.

The Glasgow pack started to dominate Munster early on too, but did not always benefit from referee Leighton Hodges’ interpretation and when Paddy Butler broke from a splintered scrum, it led to Laulala making amends for his earlier error by diving over the Glasgow line. Ronan O’Gara converted and the scores were level after just nine minutes. Hodges missed a blatant side entry in a ruck leading up to the score and did not endear himself to the home crowd with a couple of decisions in favour of the Irishmen in the following minutes which were debatable at best.

Returning Ireland locks Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan were a good source of ball for Munster at lineouts, and O’Callaghan proved adept at taking a crossfield ball as Glasgow’s defence was severely tested. Glasgow scrum-half Niko Matawalu was beginning to show his threat with sniping runs and slick passing, and he took some punishment from Munster in rucks when the ball was not emerging quickly in an early lesson for the hosts of the need to avoid being drawn into a slow, physical battle.

Munster seized on some poor handling and ill-discipline by Glasgow to deploy their trademark forward power, and two lineout drives brought the reward of a try for loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne, converted by O’Gara after 25 minutes. Within a minute, however, the Irishmen were ruing the ability of Matawalu to seize on even less as from the restart the Glasgow scrum-half shot up to intercept a pass by his opposite number Duncan Williams and streak clear from the Munster ten-metre and in behind the posts. Jackson’s conversion levelled matters again before the half-hour.

Munster came straight back on the offensive, but Glasgow swept it up swiftly with good turnover work and Stuart Hogg’s mighty boot, and then exerted some pressure of their own, first with a Matawalu break, and then good forward work at the lineout which yielded a penalty. Jackson converted and, after O’Gara was warned for a high tackle and the Glasgow scrum drove Munster back again, Jackson slotted another to send Glasgow into the break 20-14 ahead.

Jackson, restored to stand-off, had brought a confidence to the Glasgow attack, and bar one missed touch, kicked well from hand and at goal, and, crucially, led the line with conviction. He was at the heart of a slick attack at the start of the second half, before a great sleight of hand by MacArthur released big back row Josh Strauss rampaging into the Munster half.

The Irishmen were missing Ireland quartet Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony, and O’Gara at 35 is a pale shadow of the controller he was, and so they lacked the same bite, and with Hogg an assured presence for Glasgow under the high ball long kicks yielded little reward.

So their best hope lay in the forwards, and every time Warriors players took the ball into contact without support they pounced. O’Gara cut the deficit to three points with a penalty from one such ruck, eight minutes into the second half, and with referee Hodges struggling to deal with Munster’s ‘cute’ play round the fringes.

But when Glasgow kept the ball moving swiftly they had Munster in trouble. A slick pass from Jackson released John Barclay on a 20-metre run, MacArthur then slipped inside a tackle to make another ten metres and then Moray Low, just on for Welsh, charged again, then Strauss got to two metres, and from the next ruck Jackson applied the finish, slicing through the stretched Munster defence.

The fly-half converted to restore Glasgow’s ten-point lead 17 minutes into the second half and after a solid period on the front foot, with Jackson at its apex, the fly-half pushed the Warriors into a 30-17 lead with another penalty earned by his pack. By now Matawalu had been replaced by Henry Pyrgos, having taken another bash after another daring break, and after Van Der Merwe was only denied what would have been a brilliant solo try, the winger having broken the Munster defence on halfway and only caught a metre from the corner by All Black Doug Howlett, another substitute sealed the victory for the hosts. Mark Bennett had been sent on for Maitland, with Sean Lamont moving to the wing, and his first touch was to take a superb Pyrgos miss pass across the Munster 22 and streak between two defenders to score.

Jackson left the field shortly after to a standing ovation in the main stand, and minutes later the stadium announcer confirmed him as ‘Man of the Match’. By then Scotstoun was in party mode, Hogg having finished off another scintillating attack, begun inside the home half and ended with the full-back dodging two defenders, sprinting 50 metres and beating the last man for a fine score.

Duncan Weir converted that one and they even replied to a late Howlett consolation try by ending the game the way they had started it, John Barclay this time snatching a interception and running 50 metres to score Glasgow’s sixth try in injury-time for a truly stunning win.

Glasgow: S Hogg; S Maitland, S Lamont, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe; R Jackson, N Matawalu; R Grant, P MacArthur, J Welsh, T Swinson, A Kellock (capt), J Strauss, J Barclay, R Wilson. Subs: M Low for Welsh 52mins, D Hall for MacArthur, T Ryder for Swinson, both 55, O Fainga’anuku for Grant, M Bennett for Maitland, both 67, R Harley for Strauss 70, D Weir for Jackson 72,

Munster: F Jones;D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, J Murphy; R O’Gara, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, P O’Connell, P Butler, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan.

Subs: S Archer for Botha, C Sheridan for Williams, both 50mins, I Keatley for O’Gara, I Dineen for Downey, both 56, N Ronan for Butler, W du Preez for Kilcoyne, D Varley for Sherry, all 64, B Holland for O’Connell 74.