Munster celebrate victory. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Munster 25Glasgow Warriors 24

Ryan Bailey reports from Thomond Park

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THIS PLACE HAS witnessed some remarkable, often scarcely-believable, acts of escapology down through the years, but Munster — on their knees with a quarter of the contest remaining — had absolutely no right to win this one.

Trailing by 14 points to a powerful and aggressive Glasgow Warriors outfit, the southern province had been out-played and out-muscled but, somehow, mustered the resolve and audaciousness to launch a stunning comeback. 

Thomond Park had fallen silent when Peter Horne crossed for Glasgow’s fourth try at the far end but they were treated to a vintage Munster fightback from that point, with Rory Scannell — at the end of disappointing week for him on a personal level — nailing a last-gasp penalty to steal the points.

Johann van Graan’s bench made a powerful, and telling, impact and tries from Alex Wootton and man-of-the-match Alby Mathewson laid the platform for Scannell to nail his long-range penalty with the last kick of the game.

After an intensely physical contest between these Conference A rivals, the reaction of the Munster players at full-time spoke volumes, as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to maintain their unbeaten record at home this term and crucially make ground on leaders Glasgow in the standings.

For their part, the Scottish outfit will wonder how they let this game slip from their grasp having seized control of it from the 23rd minute onwards after George Horne’s quickfire brace had stunned the natives. 

Munster, having started brightly, were on the back foot and on the ropes until they regained their bearings and composure in the final quarter to turn the evening on its head, and record a fourth win of the Pro14 campaign.

It was a sweet moment for Scannell, who endured the disappointment of being left out of Joe Schmidt’s enlarged November Test panel on Wednesday, only to be the hero on a night which had threatened to go horribly wrong for Munster. 

Glasgow — without a host of their internationals — deserve huge credit for the way they played, often dominating Munster in all facets, but the visitors will rue a number of points they left behind, particularly from the boot of Peter Horne.

Scannell kicks the winning points. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The opening exchanges were played with a feisty edge, these sides clearly showing no love loss for each other, particularly after van Graan felt Munster were subject to a number of late, and illegal, hits during the round two encounter at Scotstoun last month.

Munster lacked accuracy on that occasion, and it was a similar story in the first period here, despite a bright and intentful start which saw them show huge aggression in defence and at the breakdown.

An early dust-up — which started with O’Mahony, Niall Scannell and Billy Holland teaming up on Callum Gibbins and Rory Hughes, only for both sets of players to get involved — appeared to have focused Munster on the task at hand.

As Glasgow lost their discipline, the hosts maintained their composure. Gibbins’ temper boiled over and after his push into the back of Chris Cloete was spotted by the assistant referee, Munster used the penalty lineout on halfway as the platform for their first attacking move of the game.

Standing at first receiver, Scannell set the wheels in motion for JJ Hanrahan to feed Keith Earls from deep, the winger — who signed a contract extension during the week — showing his turn of pace to burst through the gaping hole and into Glasgow territory.

With Mathewson screaming for the offload on his left shoulder, Earls delayed the pass to draw in the final defender, but by the time he fed Mike Haley on his right, Glasgow shirts had scrambled back to cover.

Munster had numbers in support, though, and a big cleanout by the forwards ensured quick ball, before the visitors were caught offside and Hanrahan kicked for the corner. The pack did the rest.

CJ Stander and Scannell were first to put the head down for the whitewash after the lineout maul had been sacked by the Warriors, but there was no stopping James Cronin from short-range, the prop barrelling over with John Ryan in support.

Munster were enjoying large tracts of possession and territory, but despite a couple of bright openings — namely when Haley slalomed through the first line of defence only for Sammy Arnold’s blind offload to go straight into the hands of Matt Fagerson — were unable to stamp their authority on the scoreboard.

As it was, Glasgow soaked up the pressure, remained stoic in defence and pounced in emphatic fashion with a sweeping counter-attacking move which started inside their own 22 and ended with George Horne diving over in this near corner for a TMO-awarded score.

Without having a sniff hitherto, Dave Rennie’s side turned the ball over after Mathewson’s clever grubber into space, demonstrating ambition and execution in throwing the ball wide to hit back, despite Earls’ best efforts to prevent the Glasgow scrum-half getting it down cleanly.

George Horne scored a quickfire brace for his side. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Peter Horne’s conversion attempt from this near side was poor, and while the out-half then missed another kick-able penalty after Glasgow had put Munster under further pressure on the ground, the visitors soon raced into the lead.

Coming from another turnover, this was another slick backline move from the Scottish outfit as they transitioned from defence into attack seamlessly, Ruaridh Jackson making the initial break in midfield to free the rampaging Nick Grigg, who caused huge damage.

Arnold burst out of the line but in failing to take man and ball after chasing out, left the Munster defence fractured and Grigg took advantage, offloading to scrum-half Horne on his shoulder to run it under the posts.

All of a sudden, Munster were on the ropes. Arnold shipped a shuddering hit from replacement centre Stafford McDowall and his evening was over, the 22-year-old not appearing for the second period, and the hosts were spared by a Gibbins forward pass on the stroke of the break as Glasgow went for the jugular.

Mathewson kicked the ball dead as soon as the clock went red as Munster sought refuge in the sheds, but there was no let-up from Glasgow as they swung the contest definitively in their favour. Or so we thought. 

Again the province were turned inside out by a lethal counter-offensive from the away side, after O’Mahony had been flattened — perhaps illegally — on this near touchline in the act of releasing Wootton.

With the Munster captain struggling to get back to his feet, Glasgow broke on the far side of the pitch through the ever-dangerous Niko Matawalu and in committing numbers to the breakdown, recycled furiously to leave the red shirts scrambling.

Gibbins, heavily involved in all facets all evening, broke the tackle and freed his hands to release Jackson for the line, only for Holland and O’Mahony — having somehow got back into the line — to force the knock on on the line.

After lengthy video recourse from his TMO, referee Dan Jones chalked off the score but also saw Cloete needlessly barrel into a Glasgow player off the ball, with the South African flanker sent to the bin for 10 minutes.

A Glasgow penalty followed and after pitching tent five metres out, the Warriors eventually forced the breakthrough when Fagerson controlled at the back of a powerful scrum and surged through the hole, for a 17-5 advantage. The natives were stunned.

Munster briefly threatened to launch an initial comeback when Hanrahan looked to have found an instant riposte with a surging break from halfway, but the out-half was brilliantly turned onto his back by the tracking Jackson and Horne, thus failing to get the ball down and the chance was gone.

Hanrahan did reduce the deficit from the tee shortly afterwards, but Munster’s decision to go for the posts after a sustained period of scrum pressure was questionable at best. It later proved to be inspired. But as Cloete returned, Glasgow were threatening to run out of sight.

Glasgow celebrate Fagerson’s try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Whereas Munster were guilty of profligacy and poor decision-making for the first hour, Glasgow were utterly ruthless in opposition territory, showing power, precision and ingenuity to raid fortress Thomond.

In the knowledge his side had a penalty advantage, George Horne changed the angle of attack by chipping over the top for his brother, Peter, to collect in the air and fall over the line, with replacement Brandon Thomson adding the extras.

Game over? Not quite. Trailing by 14 points with 20 minutes remaining, van Graan unloaded his bench and the energy and power of Arno Botha, work-rate of Stephen Archer and Dave Kilcoyne and smart kicking of Ian Keatley helped turn the tide.

An energy-sapping passage of play appeared to be yielding no reward for the hosts, only for Haley’s delightful pass left to eventually unlock the Glasgow defence, with Wootton applying the finish touch in the corner. Keatley couldn’t tack on the conversion, but at 15-24, there was new life in Munster. 

Botha wasted little time in making further ground as he carried for all of 40 metres from the restart, surging his way through would-be tackles and giving his side front-foot ball. It laid the platform for Munster to lay siege, as Mathewson sniped over to set-up the grandstand finale. 

And then one final steal on the ground — who else but O’Mahony? — just inside the Glasgow half allowed Scannell take centre stage, his big left boot striking the penalty attempt as sweet as you like with the aid of a light breeze.

Truly remarkable, but not for the first time, Munster completed a smash-and-grab win. Up to third in Conference A. They’ll take it heading to South Africa this week. 

Munster scorers:

Tries: James Cronin, Alex Wootton, Alby Mathewson.
Conversions: JJ Hanrahan [1 from 1], Ian Keatley [1 from 2]
Penalties: JJ Hanrahan [1 from 1], Rory Scannell [1 from 1].

Glasgow scorers:

Tries: George Horne [2], Matt Fagerson, Peter Horne. 
Conversions: Peter Horne [1 from 3], Brandan Thomson [1 from 1].
Penalties: Peter Horne [0 from 1]

MUNSTER: 15. Mike Haley, 14. Darren Sweetnam, 13. Sammy Arnold (Alex Wootton 38′), 12. Rory Scannell, 11. Keith Earls, 10. JJ Hanrahan (Ian Keatley 61′), 9. Alby Mathewson (Neil Cronin 77′); 1. James Cronin (Dave Kilcoyne 46′), 2. Niall Scannell, 3. John Ryan (Stephen Archer 57′), 4. Jean Kleyn (Fineen Wycherley 77′), 5. Billy Holland, 6. Peter O’Mahony, 7. Chris Colete (Arno Botha 60′), 8. CJ Stander.

Replacements not used: 16. Kevin O’Byrne.

GLASGOW WARRIORS: 15. Ruaridh Jackson, 14. DTH van der Merwe, 13. Nick Grigg, 12. Sam Johnson (Stafford McDowall 23′), 11. Rory Hughes (Brandon Thomson 51′), 10. Pete Horne, 9. George Horne; 1. Oli Kebble (Jamie Bhatti 37′), 2. Grant Stewart (Kevin Bryce 73′), 3. D’Arcy Rae (Petrus du Plessis 63′), 4. Rob Harley (Greg Peterson 73′), 5. Scott Cummings, 6. Adam Ashe (Chris Fusaro 61′), 7. Callum Gibbins, 8. Matt Fagerson.

Replacements not used: 21. Nick Frisby.

Referee: Dan Jones [WRU]

Attendance: 13,356. 

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