MUNSTER’S dream of a fourth Guinness PRO12 title were shattered by a hugely impressive Glasgow side in their final showdown played put before 17,000 supporters at Kingspan Stadium, Belfast on Saturday evening.
Pre-match favourites Munster never recovered from the concession of three first half tries in Paul O’Connell’s farewell game as a clinical Glasgow side secured their first PRO12 title on a convincing 31-13 scoreline.
Glasgow, who possessed far too much attacking threat for their opponents to deal with in the opening half, led 21-10 at the break. Munster simple failed to cope wth Glasgow’s effective off-loading game.
While Munster rallied to trail by eight points, 13-21, after 48 minutes. a fourth Glasgow try from out-half Finn Russell effectively killed off any hopes of a comeback.
It was a disappointing way for O’Connell’s distinguished career as a Munster player to come to an end. Indeed, this also the last time the likes of JJ Hanrahan, Paddy Burler, Andrew Smith and Sean Dougall will line out for the province as they depart the province this summer.
While Munster were dealt two major blows in the days leading up to the game with Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony ruled out due to injury, this was this was always going to be a difficult assignment for the three-time PRO12 winners.
Glasgow attacked from the start and were ahead after seven minutes when flanker Robert Harley touched down after a high octane start. Out-half Finn Russell duly added the conversion. Munster out-half Ian Keatley gave the large travelling support something to cheer about when landing a 23rd minute penalty goal.
However, Glasgow, eager to attack at every opportunity, stunned their opponents when scoring a second try through winger DTH Van Der Merwe after 25 minutes. Russell again landed the easy conversion.
And Munster found themselves with a mountain to climb when Glasgow scrum-half Henry Prygos grabbed a third try for the Warriors in the 32nd minute. Russell’s conversion saw Glasgow lead 21-3.
Munster looked shell-shocked, but gave themselves a lifeline just before half-time when centre Andrew Smith powered over after a concerted period of pressure from the Irish province. Keatley’s conversion left it 21-10 at half-time.
Munster opened the second half in the ascendancy and Paul O’Connell came agonisingly close to grabbing a second try just after the re-start, but referee Nigel Owens judged the ball was held up. Munster did come away with points, however, when Keatley landed a 48th minute penalty goal after the Scots were penalised at scrum time.
However, if Munster had any hopes of pulling off the great escape, those were dashed in the 59th minute when the excellent Russell cut through for his side’s fourth try. The out-half also added the extras for a gaping 28-13 lead. Replacement Duncan Weir landed a final quarter penalty goal to seal an 18-point win for Glasgow.
SCORERS: Munster: Andrew Smith try. Ian Keatley pen, pen, con. Glasgow: Finn Russell try, four cons, Robert Harley, DH Van Der Merwe, Henry Pyrgos try each, Duncan Weir pen.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley (capt), Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Eusebio Guinazu, BJ Botha, Billy Holland, Paul O’Connell, Donnacha Ryan, Paddy Butler, CJ Stander. Replacements: Sean Dougall for Butler (temp 9-18 mins), JJ Hanrahan for Keatley, Ronan O’Mahony for Zebo (both 56 mins), Stephen Archer for Botha, Jack O’Donoghue for Butler (both 60 mins), James Cronin for Kilcoyne, Duncan Casey for Guinazu (both 63 mins), Cathal Sheridan for Williams. Sean Dougall for Butler (both 72 mins).
GLASGOW WARRIORS: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Richie Vernon, Peter Horne, DTH van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Henry Pyrgos; Gordon Reid, Dougie Hall, Rossouw de Klerk, Leone Nakarawa, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson, Josh Strauss (capt).
Replacements: Jon Welsh for de Klerk (53 mins), Chris Fusaro for Harley (60 mins), Sean Lamont for Hogg (62 mins), Al Kellock for Nakarawa, Duncan Weir for Russell (both 67 mins), Niko Matawalu for Pyrgos (71 mins), Jerry Yanuyanutawa for Reid (77 mins).
REFEREE: Nigel Owens (Wales)