Glasgow Warriors 5
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun Stadium
AFTER a 17 month unbeaten streak at Scotstoun, Glasgow Warriors finally tasted defeat on their own patch against a ruthless and clinical Munster side, who will now progress to a URC play-off semi-final showdown against Leinster next Saturday night at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
The loss of stand-off Tom Jordan to a red-card midway through the first half – during a harrowing five minute spell when Munster also scored all their points through two tries – left Warriors with too much of a mountain to climb.
While this first defeat at Scotstoun since going down to La Rochelle in the Champions Cup back in January 2022 means Warriors’ URC campaign is over, Franco Smith’s side can still pick up some silverware this season when they face Toulon in the final of the Challenge Cup in Dublin in two Fridays’ time (on 19th May).
“In the first 25 minutes we were all over them but couldn’t convert that into points, which was the biggest disappointment of the evening for me,” said head coach Smith afterwards. “The rest was well handled. We ended up defending a lot at the end of the second half and we actually won that second part of the game 5-0 with 14 players on the field and 13 for the last five minutes. So, great character shown from the team and that’s what we’re about.
“Yes, we’re disappointed because we all wanted to win this competition, we all wanted to play Leinster next week, but the fact that even in the 79th minute with so many defensive sets on our try-line and still we didn’t give away any points is phenomenal.
“I will add that Munster defended our set-piece very well tonight, which was class from that regard because most other teams succumb to the pressure we’ve applied there all season. From that point of view, they merit the win.
Smith had no complaints about Jordan’s sending off. “It is what it is,” he said. “There was contact to the head – foul play – we’ve seen this type of situation many times now, so when it happened it was clear from our side that it would probably be a red.
“I don’t think it was a turning point. The turning point was that we didn’t take away points in the first 25 minutes. It looked like we were going to dominate them but we just didn’t convert the points.”
He also had no complaints about his side not choosing to kick points during that opening quarter. “If you look at how dominant we were that was the right decision,” he reasoned. “That is how we’ve won games this year, but we didn’t convert it.
“Then they went 14-0 up with that red-card, which meant we had to chase the game by scoring tries. So, maybe once or twice we thought about it, but we just felt we had so much pressure and were so on top of them, and that’s why we have no regrets about it.”
Warriors threatened first when Sione Tuipulotu broke through the middle with just two minutes on the clock, past Peter O’Mahony (who was suffering with a shoulder injury sustained whilst diving on a loose ball and being clobbered by Kyle Steyn‘s attempted hack ahead) – but Munster managed to scramble back and snuff out the threat.
Munster’s talismanic captain soldiered on for another minute and a half before being replaced by John Hodnett, and the visitors lost RG Snyman – another totemic figure for the Irish side – to a concussion on 16 minutes.
The hosts continued to dominate, and a 13 man maul on the right didn’t find its way to the line, then Jack Dempsey was held up over the line.
Warriors’ failure to turn pressure into points was punished by Munster on their first real attack, when they bulldozed through a dozen phases before Malakai Fekitoa spun out of Steyn’s tackle and stretched over the line on 22 minutes.
Warriors then suffered an even bigger setback when Jordan was red-carded for a high tackle – with shoulder to head contact – on Connor Murray. With Smith opting for his preferred six-two split on the bench, and no recognised stand-off in his match-day squad, centre Stafford McDowall took over at first receiver. It was also the last we saw of the concussed Murray.
The rattled home team then conceded a soft penalties when Matt Fagerson came in at the side to kill a maul, and two minutes later, Antoine Frisch blasted his way over to set up a straightforward conversion for Jack Crowley which made it 14-0 with 28 minutes played.
Warriors found themselves defending a scrum five under the shadow of the posts when Ollie Smith made a meal of gathering Calvin Nash‘s speculative kick and ended up carrying back over his line, but they managed to hold out with no more scores conceded before half-time.
Warriors had to score first after the break, and they had a long spell camped on the Munster line, but a lack of composure at key moments in the face of Munster’s ferocious defence meant they couldn’t close the gap until 67th minute.
When that score finally came, it was a beauty, with Huw Jones exploiting a rare dogleg in Munster’s defence to break clear, before sending Steyn over with an excellent pass.
By this point, George Horne had been replaced by Ali Price, and with Jordan on the naughty step, Warriors were down to their third-choice goal kicker. Stafford McDowall pulled his tricky conversion attempt to the left of the posts, leaving Warriors needing two scores to keep their URC campaign alive.
That was as close as the home team got, and it was game over when they were reduced to 13-men by the yellow-carding of Sione Tuipulotu for a high challenge on Fekitoa with just under five minutes to go.
That means Warriors now have a week off before the final, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“In all honesty, to play in two finals for where we are in year one with these boys would have been a huge task,” concluded Smith. “We were all in to win this, there was no talk of taking our foot off the pedal. But now we’ve got to be smart about it. We probably won’t train until later in the week. There will be four or five days when we just reset the bodies and get the minds liberated a little bit.
“The sense in the changing room is that there is so much determination to finish this season on a high. We’ll make a proper plan for Toulon and with fresh and recovered bodies we’ll go and see if we can bring something back.”
Glasgow Warriors: O Smith (H Jones 54); S Cancelliere, S Tuipulotu, S McDowall, K Steyn©; T Jordan, G Horne (A Price 66); J Bhatti (N McBeth 54), J Matthews (F Brown 71), Z Fagerson (S Berghan 62), S Cummings (L Bean, 66), R Gray (J du Preez 54), M Fagerson, R Darge (S Vialanu 54), J Dempsey.
Munster: M Haley; C Nash (M Fekitoa 66), A Frisch, M Fekitoa (B Healy 54, J Loughman 75), S Daly; J Crowley, C Murray (C Casey, 25); J Loughman (J Wycherley 58), D Barron (N Scannell 42), S Archer (R Solanoa 62), J Klein (A Kendellen 71), R Snyman (F Wycherley 16), T Beirne, P O’Mahony (J Hodnett 5), G Coombes.
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Glasgow Warriors: Try: Steyn.
Munster: Tries: Fekitoa, Frisch; Con: Crowley 2.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14 (h-t) 5-14.
Yellow card –
Glasgow Warriors: Tuipulotu (75mins)
Red card –
Glasgow Warriors: Jordan (25mins)