Glasgow narrowly fail high-intensity test
Unlike football, where club is king, the rugby season enters those strange periods when Six Nations, World Cups and autumn Test series run in tandem with domestic championships and the latter is left in no doubt about who is boss. The last time Munster had visited Scotstoun in the Guinness Pro12 was, technically, outside the international window in early December but both sides were shorn of top players being rested after their November exploits for country as the Irish edged a 16-15 win.
But this vital European Champions Cup clash had the air of a Test match, with stars all over the pitch and Glasgow fielding a starting XV of Scotland internationalists against the Irishmen less than a month before the same two nations convene at BT Murrayfield to kick off the 2017 Six Nations on 4 February.
But such was the monumental nature of this titanic Pool 1 clash, with Glasgow striving to avenge their thumping in Limerick last October and move above leaders Munster in their quest for a first ever quarter-final place, that the Six Nations match seemed a long way off. This was a Glasgow thing. And a Munster thing. Two clubs who, despite being the property of their respective unions, have managed to forge fiercely proud identities for themselves.
The match was a sell-out but then they always are at Scotstoun these days, though the large number of red-clad Munster fans and the enormity of the occasion brought an extra edge and atmosphere to proceedings on a cold but clear and crisp night, perfect for rugby.
There are no bigger stars in the Scottish rugby firmament currently than Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg and this pair were always going to have a huge bearing on whether Glasgow could get the win they craved to keep their quarter-final dreams on track. Russell was up against the Kiwi-born Tyler Bleyendaal, two years his senior but uncapped at Test level compared to the 24-year-old Scot who now has 22 .
The former New Zealand Under-20 pivot is on course to qualify for Ireland on residency in a year’s time and his head-to-head with the in-form Russell was billed as a bit of a Roundhead-Cavalier match-up, with Bleyendaal viewed as more of a kicking ten in comparison with the Warrior’s off-the-cuff creativity.
That may have more to do with the traditional Munster game plan than any of Bleyendaal’s natural instincts but both men found themselves fairly restrained in a first 40 minutes which was as tight and as cagey as probably should have been predicted, ending 6-6.
Bleyendaal kicked two penalties for Munster, while Russell and Hogg shared the points for the home side, with the full-back taking his usual long-range duties – converting one and missing the other.
Russell began to get a bit more zip into his game at the start of the second half and edged the kicking duel with Bleyendaal 2-1 before the defining moment of the game came with almost exactly ten minutes remaining – the yellow-carding of Hogg for a high tackle .
Munster found the breakthrough soon after with the critical try and, despite a brave Glasgow riposte spearheaded by the ever daring Russell, this mighty match was lost.
As tense, compelling and, ultimately, heartbreaking as any Test match.