Dave Rennie calls for clinical cutting edge from Glasgow in Munster crunch

Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SINCE famously beating Munster in the 2015 PRO12 final, Glasgow have played the Irish province six times and won only once. Granted, some of those defeats have been close, but that recent record has to be a concern for Dave Rennie as he looks forward to the latest meeting of the two sides tonight at Scotstoun.

The one match won by a large margin was last season’s Champions Cup pool game, played in extraordinarily emotional circumstances after the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley. Munster won 38-17 that day, and later the then Warriors coach Gregor Townsend accepted that his team had felt overwhelmed by the occasion. Of Glasgow’s other four defeats, two have been by two points, the others by one and three, while their solitary win, at Scotstoun the season before last, was by three points.

The fact that most of those matches have been so tight will provide some solace for Rennie, who can at least conclude from the results that his team have been highly competitive. And yet the fact that Munster ended up victorious on all but one occasion suggests that the Irishmen have a little bit more in the locker when it comes to closing out tight contests.  

At least Glasgow have some recent form in that regard themselves, having beaten Cardiff in last week’s PRO14 match by a single point and a fortnight earlier got the better of Connacht by six. Their comfortable win over the Ospreys between those two games means that the Warriors are three out of three in the league, just a point behind – who else? – Munster at the top of Conference B.

That recent form and the teams’ head-to-head record makes tonight’s game a tough one to call, and Rennie suggested that last season’s four defeats were irrelevant to this latest match-up. “We haven’t spoken about it,” the head coach said after announcing his squad for the game. “I’m of the belief that history counts for nothing – it’s what we do in the 80 minutes that will be key.

“I’m sure there will be personal motivations for individuals who played those games. What we know is that they are a really strong side and we have to lift our game from the last three weeks.”

Having explained that he had not discussed last season’s Munster matches with his players, Rennie added that he and his fellow-coaches had taken a keen interest in them. “We’ve done a lot of homework on it,” he said. “They were tight games. Bar one, they were arm-wrestles that could have gone either way.

“When you play the top sides you might only get two or three opportunities. You’ve got to grab them. That’s certainly something we’ve talked about this week.

“[Assistant coach] Jason O’Halloran has been working really hard on our attack. There’s a lot of good work being done there. Last week, we were maybe one or two rucks, or one or two passes, off scoring. We’ve talked about patience and building pressure. We’ve done a lot of work on that. We’re working hard for constant improvement.

“We’re happy from one perspective: we’ve won games without playing at our best, have shown a bit of character and found ways to win. That attitude is going to be important tomorrow night.

“We’re happy we won the first three, but we’re measuring things by our own standards. We’ve defended with a lot of character and only conceded two tries, but we haven’t held on to the ball for long enough. Last week we created a lot of opportunities but just weren’t clinical enough, and that has probably been the theme of the first three weeks.

“Now we’re going to come up against a very strong defensive side. It will be a great test for us. If we can hang on to the ball,  then we can put them under a bit of pressure.”

Captain Ryan Wilson returns to the back row after sitting out the Cardiff game with a neck strain, while in the back division there are returns for Ali Price, Rory Hughes and Peter Horne. Substitute Rob Harley is in a matchday squad for the first time this season, having recovered from an ankle injury.

Tommy Seymour misses out this week with what Rennie called “a slight groin issue”, but the winger should be back for next week’s game against Benetton, as should Fraser Brown and possibly Jonny Gray. The head coach was considerably less optimistic about Alex Dunbar’s chances of a speedy comeback from the knee injury he sustained last week. “We’ll learn more over the next two or three days – he could be out for a little while,” was his prognosis on the centre.

Meanwhile, former Scotland and Lions loosehead Ryan Grant is back training with the Warriors, the team he left at the start of this year, and could get the chance to add to his current tally of 107 appearances over the next few weeks. “With Oli Kebble out injured, we’re looking at options,” Rennie added. “We’ve brought him in and he’ll be in for a little while as cover.”

 

Glasgow Warriors (versus Munster at Scotstoun, Friday, 7.35pm): R Jackson; L Jones, N Grigg, P Horne, R Hughes; F Russell, A Price; J Bhatti, G Turner,  Z Fagerson, T Swinson, S Cummings, R Wilson, C Gibbins, A Ashe. Substitutes: P MacArthur, A Allan D Rae, B Alainu’uese, R Harley, H Pyrgos, S Johnson, L Sarto.

 

Munster: A Conway D Sweetnam, C Farrell, R Scannell, A Wootton; T Bleyendaal, D Williams; L O’Connor, R Marshall, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland, S O’Connor, T O’Donnell, J O’Donoghue. Substitutes: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, J Ryan, F wycherley, R Copeland, J Hart, J Taute, S Zebo.

Glasgow’s recent record v Munster:

2015-16 (both PRO12)

A lost 21-23

H won 27-24

2016-17

H lost 15-16 (PRO12)

A lost 38-17 (Champions Cup)

H lost 12-14 (Champions Cup)

A lost 7-10 (PRO12)

About Stuart Bathgate 1407 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.