RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Glasgow topple Munster
RaboDirect Pro12: Three talking points as Glasgow Warriors beat Munster to reach the final
Warriors shine bright to make history
The talking point with the RaboDirect Pro12 semi-finals is always that no away team has ever reached the final, and so it remains until at least Saturday night when Leinster take on Ulster. For Glasgow Warriors, it means a first final appearance—the first time for a Scottish club—after three previous semi-final failures, two of those coming against Leinster at the RDS in the last two seasons. There have been some very special matches at Scotstoun since the Warriors made the sports complex their permanent home for the start of the 2012/13 season, but none have come close to Friday night’s enthralling encounter in front of a 10,000-strong crowd, a new record. For all the talk of how bad Scotland have been as a rugby nation in recent years, the Warriors—led by an experienced former international Gregor Townsend—continue to show they can live with and beat the clubs with a stranglehold on Celtic rugby in the last decade. Townsend—proving to be a very astute head coach in his second season in charge—certainly has a future as Scotland head coach whether five or 10 years down the line. The depth and competition within the squad he has built is easily in the top two in the Pro12 and among the top 10 in Europe. The Warriors may boast the best defence in the Pro12 despite Townsend’s heavy rotation policy in recent weeks, but they have proven again that they can come up against the masters of attritional rugby and grind out the biggest of wins and still frighten defences with lightning breaks from backs who will pounce on anything and be away. There is definitely a special feel at the club and a momentum building which is bigger than just reaching a final. Despite past failures and a poor outing in the Heineken Cup, there was an expectation of a tough game, but a Warriors win, even with the absence of Scottish internationals Duncan Weir and Stuart Hogg. Growing a rugby fan base in traditional football heartlands is no easy task but, just as the Irish provinces took years to achieve, rugby is shining bright in the west of Scotland and this season could be the catalyst that ignites a turnaround in fortunes for Scottish rugby.
Video nasty shows up poor officiating
For years, Italian rugby has been often ridiculed. At Scotstoun, it was the turn of the all-Italian officials to come under heavy fire from a partisan crowd and the press box bursting at the seams. At times multilingual referee Marius Mitrea looked out of his depth in his 29th outing in the Pro12 and/or forgot the laws of the game. Countless infringements at the breakdown in the first half went unpunished. Mitrea certainly let the game flow in the opening quarter which, ordinarily, would be welcomed, but it did have an impact on the game. An off-the-ball scrap between Glasgow’s Alex Dunbar and Munster’s Keith Earls which came from Earls not releasing in the build-up to the first Munster try was all most of the fans were watching as the Munster forwards made several snipes for the line. Munster captain Damien Varley eventually went over and the TMO was called into action. Nothing ‘clear and obvious’ on the scrap, which needed Warriors hooker Dougie Hall to wade in to break it up, so no reason not to award the try, courtesy of Carlo Demasco. It was an incident that took two Glasgow defenders out of the play and should certainly have brought a penalty to Glasgow. At 7-3, more TMO action: this time ‘try yes or no?’ as Simon Zebo went to the line before the ball was stolen by the Warriors. It looked short from one angle, maybe on the line behind bodies from another. Camera angles proved inconclusive with no images from in goal—something questioned by Munster head coach Rob Penney post-match. The first half didn’t get any better for the officials. A crucial penalty to the Warriors right before half-time, converted by Finn Russell, was awarded for a collapsed scrum, yet replays showed an illegal bind by Warriors loosehead Gordon Reid on BJ Botha before the collapse. Another wrong decision, but the worst decision incensed the home fans in the second half as a kick through deflected off the hands of Felix Jones into touch. Assistant Giuseppe Vivarini awarded a lineout to Munster. Protestations from players and the crowd ignored, despite the glaringly obvious error being replayed on the large, temporary big screen. On another night, with the same performances and a different referee, Munster would have gone through.
Munster throw it away again
An almost tearful Rob Penney lamented the small margins in his post-match interview as his tenure at Munster ended two weeks early with a second semi-final defeat in four weeks. One of the province’s glaring weaknesses is, unquestionably, their ordinary backline and relentless lateral passing from wing to wing. Simon Zebo and replacement Andrew Conway showed glimpses of promise, but were also guilty of allowing Glasgow to attack them, not least the situation midway through the second half when Zebo twice fumbled a bobbling ball before coming under relentless pressure from the Warriors forcing Ian Keatley to punt the ball into touch. Too often this season, Munster have been found out against strong defences as they switch the ball without making much ground. It has been a feature of Penney’s Munster, but without the players to carry it off. Against the meanest defence in the Pro12, it was never going to be the best game plan. A slew of handling errors certainly didn’t help their cause with too many knock-ons ending any meaningful territory gained, loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne—who had another poor game—guilty on several occasions. It was certainly a better performance than a week ago when they were embarrassed by a youthful Ulster team, but the handling errors and indiscipline at the breakdown remained. Regardless of the quality of performance, Keatley’s missed conversion for the second try proved costly. He may have added a later penalty, having missed an earlier effort, but with the league’s most accurate kicker JJ Hanrahan (55/63 or 87.30 per cent) already on the pitch as a replacement, it raises further questions about Munster’s ability to manage a game when the pressure is on—surely the kick goes to the most accurate kicker.