Why Glasgow Warriors’ rivalry with Munster is a grudge worth relishing and story behind Conor Murray 'blow up'

Shared history and a few flashpoints as two teams prepare to do battle once more

Glasgow Warriors’ rivalry with Munster stretches back more than a decade and outside of the traditional local derbies like Glasgow-Edinburgh and Munster-Leinster, it’s one of the best modern-day grudge matches.

Every time they play each other it seems to be an important game with something on the line. There’s always an edge to it and it’ll be no different on Saturday when the sides meet at Thomond Park in the United Rugby Championship semi-finals.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It has been building since the early 2010s, and the game in 2013 when Glasgow put 50 points on Munster at Scotstoun felt like a significant moment. That was a chastening defeat for Munster who were still considered one of the European powerhouses whilst the best Glasgow could offer was three top four finishes in the league since the introduction of professionalism. It was an embarrassment for Munster even though Glasgow would go on to claim the title of champions just 18 months later, and it has become the foundation for the great rivalry.

Glasgow Warriors' Zander Fagerson and Jamie Dobie celebrate after the win over Munster at Thomond Park last season. (Photo by Dan Sheridan/INPHO/Shutterstock)Glasgow Warriors' Zander Fagerson and Jamie Dobie celebrate after the win over Munster at Thomond Park last season. (Photo by Dan Sheridan/INPHO/Shutterstock)
Glasgow Warriors' Zander Fagerson and Jamie Dobie celebrate after the win over Munster at Thomond Park last season. (Photo by Dan Sheridan/INPHO/Shutterstock)

There have been some significant games between the sides since, most notably the 2015 Pro12 final in Belfast which was Munster’s first opportunity to win silverware in a long time and they got blown off the park by Glasgow. From the first kick of the match, when Josh Strauss fielded it and ran over CJ Stander, Munster’s talisman, there was only ever going to be one winner.

Then we faced them four times in one season, twice in the league and twice in Europe. We were the first team to play them after their forwards coach, Anthony Foley, died in 2016 and that was a very emotional occasion. They could have played anyone that day and they would have won. There was an incredible intensity around that game and even with Keith Earls’ red card, nothing was going to stop them from winning and it was one of those games I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Later that season they came across to Scotstoun and beat us to qualify for the last eight of the Champions Cup. A few months later and the sides faced one another again, this time with Glasgow scrapping to get into the league play-offs. We had to go over there and win to have any chance of silverware in Gregor Townsend’s last season as head coach but lost and so they knocked us out of the league, effectively ending our season.

The Conor Murray stuff all blew up that season. There was never a plan by Glasgow to target the scrum-half’s standing leg, as Munster claimed. It was just about tackling him because they didn’t have any blockers in place. He would pick the ball up and he had a slow ball-to-foot action in those days so we put pressure on him and they turned it into something else.

Munster's Conor Murray (right) is tackled by Josh Strauss of Glasgow Warriors back in 2017.Munster's Conor Murray (right) is tackled by Josh Strauss of Glasgow Warriors back in 2017.
Munster's Conor Murray (right) is tackled by Josh Strauss of Glasgow Warriors back in 2017.

So all these little bits and pieces have added to the rivalry. I remember when Dave Rennie came in as Glasgow coach after Gregor in 2017 and he felt we had a bit of a soft underbelly. His mindset was that in games against teams like Munster, where it’s going to be a scrap, we had to start a fight in the first five minutes to get everyone on board. There are always four or five in every team who are up for that but we needed to have all 23 being willing to get stuck in and go to a dark place and the best way to do that is start a fight, with everyone piling in. So there was all this going on and it has fed into the rivalry.

In my mind, there’s not been one particular thing that sparked it but it has developed like all good rivalries do and little bits have been added over time. I don’t think there’s any hatred there. There’s a little bit of bitterness from both sides because we’ve lost big games against each other that have led to missing out on silverware but I think it’s a healthy rivalry.

Fast forward to more recent times and you had Munster coming across to Scotstoun last year and winning a play-off quarter-final before going on to win the URC.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Glasgow will want to right that wrong on Saturday but going over to Thomond can be pretty hostile. It’s usually a big crowd and they’re passionate rugby people. If they’re unhappy about something, you will hear it. We won there last season during the regular league campaign and that was a significant win, our first at Thomond since 2014. Munster hadn’t been playing all that well and we came out the blocks absolutely flying. It was straight off the back of the Six Nations and you never know how these games are going to go because you might only have half your international players available.

Glasgow Warriors' Fraser Brown challenges Munster's Ben Healy - now at Edinburgh - during a match in 2022.Glasgow Warriors' Fraser Brown challenges Munster's Ben Healy - now at Edinburgh - during a match in 2022.
Glasgow Warriors' Fraser Brown challenges Munster's Ben Healy - now at Edinburgh - during a match in 2022.

We had Domingo Miotti at 10 and I think that was only his third or fourth start. We scored straight away, our maul functioned really well and I was driven over from about 15 yards out. We won a lot of collisions that day and that was key: if you want to beat Munster, you’ve got to win your collisions and generate quick ball.

We were 28-0 up at half-time, then scored again straight after the break. But Munster fought back and it ended up 38-26 to us at full-time. I think the way they came back into the game helped them go on and win the title.

But it was also a big moment for us because we hadn’t won a lot of away games last season and the perception was that we would always win at Scotstoun but struggle on the road. And while it didn’t lead to silverware, it did prove we could go to one of the toughest places in the league and win pretty emphatically. That will be important for this weekend.

Their attack has evolved a lot over the last year and a half but they’re still the same old Munster inside your 22: hard, physical and coming in round the corner off nine. It’s all about their direct carries and they’re brutal in contact, clearers taking you out off your feet and past the ruck. If you give them easy access into your 22 it’s going to be a really long day so discipline is going to be really important for Glasgow.

Sione Tuipulotu in action against Munster last year.Sione Tuipulotu in action against Munster last year.
Sione Tuipulotu in action against Munster last year.

Munster didn’t run away with it in their quarter-final win over the Ospreys on Friday night but they’ve got a lot of momentum going into the semi. They’ve won 10 in a row in the URC and that includes two victories in South Africa, over the Bulls and Lions.

They’ve got a lot of experience in their squad. Conor Murray is still there, Peter O’Mahony is always a formidable opponent and Simon Zebo - who is retiring at the end of the season - is playing some of the best rugby of his career. They’ve also got a huge carrier in Gavin Coombes, and Calvin Nash has been excellent on the wing. On top of that, there’s Jack Crowley at 10. The prospect of a Johnny Sexton-shaped hole in the Ireland team has given those in the Emerald Isle palpitations for the last five or six years but Crowley has played so well since the World Cup that Ireland have been able to move on from Sexton. Crowley has evolved the Ireland attack and he’s done the same at Munster.

Having said all that, Glasgow know they are a far better attacking team than Ospreys and they should be able to stress Munster a lot more if they can keep the ball and play in the right areas.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s going to be a fascinating game. The league stats have the two teams incredibly close with Glasgow’s attack and defence slightly better than Munster’s but only just. It will be so close and the winning of the game will more than likely come down to mentality rather than rugby ability. The set-piece could decide it. Glasgow scrummed well against the Stormers at the weekend and that will be a key battleground, but the biggest area is going to be the lineout. With Richie Gray and Scott Cummings, can Glasgow deny Munster a platform and, on the flip side, get Glasgow’s lineout and maul functioning at its unstoppable best? Munster stopped Glasgow’s bulldozing maul so well in last year’s quarter final, will they be able to do the same this year?

Glasgow have had timely injury boost in the last few weeks with Richie Gray, Huw Jones, and George Turner back fit. To have George back is a huge boost for Glasgow. He’s Scotland’s best No 2 and someone who relishes physical battles like the one Glasgow will face on Saturday. With the news that Stafford McDowall may also be back fit, it could come down to the power of the bench in the last quarter that decides who progresses to the final.

It’ll be tight but I fancy Glasgow by four.

Comments

 0 comments

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