Stafford McDowall on centre stage as Glasgow Warriors renew an old rivalry with Munster

With nine tries in 18 starts this season, Stafford McDowall’s selection for Glasgow Warriors’ United Rugby Championship quarter-final against Munster shouldn’t be viewed as a surprise.

But given that it comes at the expense of Huw Jones then eyebrows will be raised in some quarters. Jones, after all, was one of Scotland’s leading lights in the Six Nations, contributing four tries across the five matches as he dovetailed with Sione Tuipulotu. But is it McDowall who has been chosen to partner Tuipulotu in the centre at Scotstoun on Saturday following his fine performance against Scarlets in Wales last weekend. McDowall bagged a couple of tries in Llanelli to help propel Glasgow into the final of the Challenge Cup. Jones missed out on that one as he recovered from a head injury but returns to the squad for the Munster match, Franco Smith naming him among the replacements.

“You look at Huw Jones and he’s played so many good Test matches this season but Stafford hasn’t put a foot wrong,” said the Glasgow coach. “He scored two tries last weekend, he’s accurate, he’s been accurate the whole season. I also feel Huw can bring something from the bench, he can add value and will cover the whole backline apart from scrum-half and fly-half. I think he is also hungry to contribute so he is someone who will bring some energy when we need it in what is maybe the most important part of the game.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jones’ inclusion among the substitutes sees Smith veer from his usual policy of only naming a scrum-half and a stand-off as backs cover on the bench. While the coach continues with six forwards and two backs as subs – Ali Price is the replacement scrum-half – it is McDowall who will provide cover at 10 should anything happen to starting fly-half Tom Jordan. “From the first day, I said Stafford has the ability to play there,” said Smith. “Through the season we’ve often looked to use him there. He’s played as a fly-half since he was 18-19 years old.”

In another departure from the norm, Smith has made a measly three changes to his starting XV. Richie Gray returns for his 100th appearance in Glasgow colours after illness forced him out of the Scarlets game, replacing JP du Preez in the second row. Johnny Matthews starts at hooker following an energetic contribution from the bench last weekend, with George Turner dropping out and Fraser Brown returning among the replacements. The third change sees Matt Fagerson starting at blindside flanker, Rory Darge switching across to openside and Sione Vailanu moving to the bench. “The whole plan this season has been about having everyone fresh, rugby fit, with the fewest knocks possible, enthusiastic, creative,” said Smith. “All of those ingredients are important and it was the objective to come to this part of the season with the competition amongst the players being good. That forces them to be more than they can be, so hopefully we can be better on Saturday night in that regard.”

Glasgow and Munster share a history that has sometimes strayed into dark places. There have been some meaty encounters during the past decade, as the likes Ronan O’Gara, Conor Murray and Brown will attest to. O’Gara is long gone, Murray and Brown remain, but Smith is confident there is no lingering bad blood. “I hope not,” said the coach. “Yes, obviously both teams will compete for the semi-final place, there will be extra demand and extra spice to it, but there is nothing specific from our side. We just want to play a proper game. I think it’s going to be a hard-contested battle but I don’t think there would be anything more than that in it.”

Ever since Glasgow found out they would be playing Munster in the quarter-finals, Smith has moved to play down the importance of his side’s win over them in Limerick in March. The Munster side selected for Scotstoun this weekend looks stronger than the one they fielded at Thomond Park, with the inclusion of Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne adding an abrasive edge to their back row. Murray also returns and the visitors come to Scotland benefiting from having last weekend off. After losing to the Warriors in Limerick, Graham Rowntree’s side produced arguably the best set of results of any northern hemisphere URC side in South Africa, beating the Stormers in Cape Town and drawing with the Sharks in Durban. This ability to perform on the road is ample warning for Glasgow, and you have to go back to October for the last time Munster lost away in the league.

Smith said the results in South Africa came as no shock. “I was absolutely not surprised by what they did. They are a top quality side, we know that, everyone knows that. That’s why everyone was surprised that we beat them. They have a lot of experienced players who have played in quarter-finals and semi-finals. Last year most of that group would have played in the quarter-final of the Champions Cup when it went all the way to a kicking contest [Munster lost out to Toulouse after a 24-24 draw]. They know what pressure rugby is.”

Stafford McDowall will start at 12 for Glasgow Warriors against Munster. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)Stafford McDowall will start at 12 for Glasgow Warriors against Munster. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Stafford McDowall will start at 12 for Glasgow Warriors against Munster. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

The good news for Glasgow and their supporters is that they are playing at Scotstoun where they have not lost all season. “We know last week what the hostile environment at Scarlets did to us – it did unsettle us, we could all see that for a certain period of the game,” noted Smith. “So it’s really important to have your last meal at home and then come to the ground with all our supporters here and give them a good evening out and also make them proud. And then obviously their contribution: the way they stick behind us is always intimidating to the opposition but also very inspiring in our direction.”

Glasgow Warriors v Munster: URC quarter-final, Scotstoun Stadium, Saturday, 7.35pm. TV: live on Viaplay.

Glasgow Warriors: Ollie Smith; Sebastian Cancelliere, Sione Tuipulotu, Stafford McDowall, Kyle Steyn (c); Tom Jordan, George Horne; Jamie Bhatti, Johnny Matthews, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Richie Gray, Matt Fagerson, Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey.

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Nathan McBeth, Simon Berghan, JP du Preez, Lewis Bean, Sione Vailanu, Ali Price, Huw Jones.

Huw Jones, pictured left with Stafford McDowell, will start on the bench but is likely to have an important role to play.  (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Huw Jones, pictured left with Stafford McDowell, will start on the bench but is likely to have an important role to play.  (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Huw Jones, pictured left with Stafford McDowell, will start on the bench but is likely to have an important role to play. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Malakai Fekitoa, Shane Daly; Jack Crowley, Conor Murray; Jeremy Loughman, Diarmuid Barron, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O'Mahony (c), Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Niall Scannell, Josh Wycherley, Roman Salanoa, Fineen Wycherley, John Hodnett, Craig Casey, Ben Healy, Alex Kendellen.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR).



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.