“Whatever it takes“, the Glasgow motto could be seen everywhere at Scotstoun and both sides took it to heart in this gladiatorial contest for the prize of a place in the Pro12 final. After three semi-final defeats on the road Glasgow were determined to make home advantage count. Munster were equally determined to be the first away team to win a Pro12 semi-final and break their recent run of defeats at the penultimate stage of their Cup and League competitions.
I was chatting to some Glasgow fans on the train from Queen Street and tagged along with them through the residential area to the ground where they pointed me in the direction of the office to collect my ticket. It was a lovely evening after a sunny day but the clouds began to roll in and with the strong breeze it got chilly. After getting through the turnstiles I went upstairs to an area with bars and refreshments where supporters were mingling. Large framed photos of contributors to the club including Dan Parks who more recently played with Connacht lined the walls. It was interesting to see what looked like a late fitness test in the area on the ground level below, a player in a harness pulling a heavy load while another had elastic round his knees and was showing some fancy footwork. Audrey, who I had first met earlier in Dublin airport suggested a caption of “Strictly Scotstoun” for that photo and introduced me to Brenda who had brought over 40 flags from Cork to distribute to supporters.
Outside, the pitch had a running track around it which made it hard to judge proximity of the action to the sideline from my seat in the second row. Our trio of kickers were warming up when I arrived before the rest of the team joined them. You can see the strength of the wind from the flags in the photo below.
A local pipe band entertained the crowd and a very long guard of honour was formed by youths from the local clubs. As Glasgow emerged from their changing room there were fireworks and flames to welcome them.
Before kick-off there was a minutes silence for Hugh McLeod OBE who had died a few days earlier.
Once over, the supporters cheers, applause and stamping feet drowned out the whistle to get the game underway. They kept it up all night too, cheering every tackle or half break made by the Warriors, but there was a propensity to boo and jeer also and like the French they did not have the tradition of a respectful silence for both kickers. The referee came in for a lot of abuse at times also.
Hit after hit, tackle after tackle it was gladiatorial as each side took turns to probe for a weakness, only to be repelled. The referee was very quick to blow his whistle for holding on to the ball / not releasing in the tackle. One such penalty awarded to Munster when Jonny Gray held on while Sean Dougall was on his feet resulted in Munster’s first visit inside the Glasgow 22, courtesy of an excellent penalty kicked to touch against the wind. Quick ball from Foley to Murray, a lovely pass from Keatley to Downey and Munster were just metres from the line. Earls went in to clear out Alex Dunbar, Murray got the ball back and the forwards took it on. Boos rang out as Earls and Dunbar continued to wrestle around the goalposts but eventually Damien Varley crossed the line. The TMO was asked to check both the fight for foul play and the grounding. “Off, off” chanted some Glasgow supporters, but watching the replay it was hard to see what justified their call. I did not see any punches thrown. Laulala went off at that time being replaced by Andrew Conway, so Keith Earls moved into the centre while Keatley waited for the go ahead for the conversion attempt. He judged the wind well and we were delighted to see the ball sail through the posts and take a 0-7 lead.
Botha was penalised on the restart for holding on and we expected Finn Russell to reduce the gap but his first penalty effort went wide. I wondered if the weight of all the talk of the historical occasion would get to Glasgow.
Penalty.. penalty…penalty –the story of our recent defeats repeated itself…Earls for not rolling away, Botha for holding on / Murray for not releasing and scrum infringements. Russell kept the scoreboard ticking over. Simon Zebo thought he had scored a try on the half hour mark when Felix Jones and then Sean Dougall made great breaks to get Munster close before Keatley fed Zebo who tried to slip in under three Glasgow defenders. The TMO looked at it as Josh Strauss was forced off through injury and a slow hand clap started as the fans lost patience but the referee could not hear the TMO so it took longer than usual to get the decision and the try was not allowed. Instead Glasgow were awarded a 5m scrum.
Munster put on the pressure but conceded a penalty and Glasgow cleared their lines and applied their own pressure. There was outrage when the assistant referee indicated the throw was to Munster when we had all seen that the ball had rebounded off Felix Jones. Chants of “Cheats cheats” rang out but the decision was not reversed.
Just before half time Felix Jones was concussed after chasing a kick-off for Munster. It was good to see a Glasgow player check on him and signal that he needed attention before catching up with the play himself. In another reshuffle of the backline JJ Hanrahan came on with Keatley shifting to full back. With all the recent focus on concussions after the recent mishandling in the Toulouse game it was good to see this case being handled appropriately. Going into the break 9-7 down I was optimistic that with the wind in the second half Munster would prevail.
Graeme Morrison played for the Warriors for 10 years, scoring 110 points in 176 appearances before he retired in May 2013. He had delivered the match ball before the teams emerged and returned for a pitch side interview at half-time. I thought that this was a better idea than the Thomond pre match interview when the stadium can still be fairly empty.
Glasgow started the second half well pushing Munster back with an excellent kick. From the resultant lineout Munster went long and a knock-on gave Glasgow a 5m scrum.
Murray disrupted but Cusiter brought the attack back towards the line and Reid stretched out under Conway and Varley to touch down. An excellent conversion by Russell and Glasgow were 16-7 up in the 46th minute. Reid gave away a penalty shortly afterwards and Keatley found a great touch. Downey drove for the line. Next up Coughlan tried to bash his way over before O’Connell as temporary scrum-half passed to Sean Dougall who scored. Unfortunately the conversion went wide but with almost half an hour left to play the game was wide open. Munster made great ground before being penalised yet again for holding on, then Glasgow were almost through only for Keatley to kick the ball out in the nick of time. Glasgow opted for an unusual 13 man lineout as they were so close to the Munster try line but the throw in was not straight and Munster were awarded a scrum from which they won a penalty to launch another attack. Paddy Butler replaced the hard-working Sean Dougall and the crowd were incensed when a Munster lineout seemed to be less straight although more straight than their earlier penalised effort. Simon Zebo gathered a high garryowen and ran back into the Glasgow pack. Conway took it on, Keith Earls grabbed the ball when he went to ground, only to be tackled himself and won a penalty when the referee pinged Nakarawa for not releasing. Keatley converted that into three points and the gap was reduced to one with fifteen minutes left.
While there were no more scores there was plenty of excitement left but the clock ticked down and even with the fresh legs of James Cronin and Donncha O’Callaghan Munster could not get a penalty in kickable distance or a drop goal to regain the lead. At every break in play there seemed to be players stretching out their hamstrings as the pace of the game had been non stop. Defences were tested by both sides but no one could make the breakthrough. In the last ten minutes by which stage #7 Fusaro had been replaced by a winger Lamont, Glasgow had 2 good efforts to score a second try – the first from a quickly taken free kick and strong run by Nakarawa and the second from an intercept by Tommy Seymour who was chased down by Simon Zebo to maintain the deadlock. Time ran out but the fighting spirit of both teams did not. At the final whistle as the Warriors jumped for joy Munster were devastated.
While it was very disappointing to lose such a fierce battle by the narrowest of margins there was a lot to take pride in from this performance compared to last week. The reshuffled centre partnership worked well with great tackles and ball carrying by both Downey and Earls while Conway looked dangerous as he pirouetted out of tackles. Dougall and Stander were everywhere, O’Connell and Kilcoyne were prominent carrying the ball so often into contact looking for a chink and the it was real bodies on the line stuff. Check out my post match thoughts in the previous blog – Nothing tangible but…
Afterwards the MC interviewed team captain Al Kellock and coach Gregor Townsend on the pitch. They thanked all the supporters and hoped Ulster would win in the RDS giving them a home final. They are developing an impressive bond with their supporters, all of whom were invited back to the clubhouse where players mingle with them while the other bars in the main complex were shut.
It must be a challenge competing for the attention of sport fans in a city with such a strong soccer culture as Glasgow where the Old Firm derbies used to be eagerly anticipated twice a season so maybe it was no wonder that no one encountered prior to boarding the train to Scotstounhill were aware of the semi-final. In fact I was even asked where the game was being held in one shop and when I replied Scotstoun I was met with the query where is that? I did not notice any supporters in the streets from either team that afternoon unlike the following day when the soccer Scottish Cup final was being played and their supporters were visible arriving in the city. Full credit then to Glasgow warriors for building their following all season, culminating with over 10,000 for this game.
As mentioned in the last blog Brenda, Audrey and I went outside to wait near the team bus to offer our commiserations. There we met Magnus with his bare arm autographed by the Glasgow players! We questioned why as it would wash off and asked was he planning to get them tattooed in but he was in great form and just laughed at us.
There was another guy there who looked very official, armed with a clipboard. I wondered if he was with the stadium or press or whatever but he was just an autograph collector. You can see half of him in this photo I took of Rob Penney.
Munster: Felix Jones (Hanrahan 38), Keith Earls, Casey Laulala (Conway 9), James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne (Cronin 65), Damien Varley – Capt, BJ Botha; Dave Foley (O’Callaghan 65), Paul O’Connell; CJ Stander, Sean Dougall (Butler 61), James Coughlan. Replacements: Quentin MacDonald, James Cronin, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Andrew Conway
Glasgow Warriors: Murchie, S. Maitland, Bennett, Dunbar, Seymour, Russell, Cusiter, Grant, Hall, Welsh, Gray, Kellock, Harley, Fusaro, Strauss. Replacements: Nakarawa for Strauss (30), Jackson for Bennett (67), Matawalu for Cusiter (67), Reid for Grant (26), MacArthur for Hall (53), Cross for Welsh (53), Swinson for Kellock (58), S. Lamont for Fusaro (72).
PS Tourist blog of my trip also available at http://hattisar.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/glasgow/