In a match of tiny margins it is perhaps appropriate that the only try earned Munster a somewhat fortuitous victory and a place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals. Whether Glasgow can join them there depends upon winning next weekend at Leicester and other results elsewhere, their destiny no longer in their own hands.
The home side appeared to be grinding out a hard-earned but dull victory when this game was turned on its head ten minutes from time. A rare Munster attack resulted in winger Andrew Conway getting the ball with only Stuart Hogg between him and the try line. The Munster winger stepped inside the full-back who instinctively threw a hand up. Conway went down and the referee, after consulting with the television match official, carded Hogg and awarded Munster a penalty, rather than a penalty try. In the very next attack Munster made the one-man advantage work when replacement Francis Saili looped round to beat Tommy Seymour to the left-hand corner. There were just seven minutes left on the clock.
Stand-off Tyler Bleyendaal missed the conversion and Glasgow charged down a clearance kick to set up a last throw of the dice. Russell dropped into the pocket for a drop goal attempt to snatch a late win but Munster’s relentless defence meant that a Glasgow knock-on came before the shot to nothing and the visitors duly ran the clock down as only Munster can.
The game was an edgy affair played out in inches rather than anything more expansive. Every inch of ground was defended stoutly, every blade of plastic grass a miniature Maginot line. There were never more than three points separating the sides.
In a war of attrition Glasgow matched their hosts at the breakdown. Both sides threw bodies into the melee, slowing opposition ball to a snail’s pace but this whole grinding game plan was alien to the home team, meat and drink to the men in red. Glasgow had most of the ball but Munster made it count when it mattered most. Three times Glasgow players kicked the ball straight into touch and twice the visitors capitalised on the high field position to come way with points. Russell was guilty of one of those kicks and the stand-off had one of his less effective games, charged down and overdoing the chip kick to counter Munster’s blitz, especially when he kicked Glasgow’s last meaningful possession away in the final three minutes. Like the rest of the team he simply didn’t execute well enough on the day.
Where Munster had a clear edge over Glasgow was in their ball carriers. While Josh Strauss, Tim Swinson and Zander Fagerson did well Munster boast more beef on the hoof, especially in the back five of the scrum. On the odd occasion Munster got hands on the ball and ran through the phases inside the Glasgow red zone their back row forwards popped up in all the unexpected places and made big inroads when they managed a mis-match against one of Glasgow’s smaller backs.
Glasgow were further undermined by the fact that their skipper Jonny Gray struggled all match, receiving treatment at every single stoppage throughout the first half on what looked like a troublesome calf muscle.
With the game tied 6–6 at the half-time break the Warriors enjoyed their best period in the third quarter of this match – holding on to the ball, avoiding Munster’s big hits and off-loading beautifully, especially when Russell sent Swinson racing through a huge gap in the red defence. But the lock couldn’t get the next pass away and all Glasgow got for their excellence was another three points from the boot of Russell, countered just minutes later by Bleyendaal.
The wind seemed to fill the Warriors’ sails around the hour mark when Munster’s famous discipline deserted them. CJ Stander was penalised for “swimming” up the side of a maul and Russell edged Glasgow into the lead for the fourth time that afternoon. Munster conceded again at the restart to give Glasgow an easy out and, with the clock on their side, the home fans were beginning to believe. That optimism proved a little premature.