Glasgow got their Guinness PRO12 title challenge back on the road on Saturday with a morale-boosting 21-18 victory over Munster at Scotstoun.
The hosts emerged triumphant from a thoroughly bruising – and very scrappy – encounter that bore many of the hallmarks of the pair’s previous meeting on this ground eight months ago, Glasgow battling to their first-ever PRO12 Final.
But forget the domestic standings, Gregor Townsend’s men needed a win here most of all to restore the early-season momentum somewhat nullified by a brace of maddening European defeats to Toulouse.
In their path was a shrewd Munster outfit that perhaps lacks the grizzled look of old, but still possessed the canny ruthlessness that so characterises the club.
They scored their two tries in the first half, through pivot, JJ Hanrahan and hulking number eight, Robin Copeland – the Warriors coming alive after the interval with both second-rows, Leone Nakarawa and the outstanding Jonny Gray touching down.
Warriors fly-half Finn Russell, wayward and tentative from the tee a week ago, stayed out late during the warm-up to nail one last kick, and opened the scoring on seven minutes with a well-struck penalty after visiting tighthead, Stephen Archer had brought down the scrum.
Glasgow’s lead was short-lived. Right from the kick-off, slack handling from hooker Fraser Brown saw the ball squirm free from his grasp on the home 22, Munster seizing possession and carries from Copeland and Simon Zebo creating space for Hanrahan to dummy and dart over.
The fly-half pushed his conversion attempt wide, and Russell was off-target with a long-range penalty after the scrum crumpled illegally once more.
Munster’s indiscipline was allowing Glasgow to gain territory and build pressure, a bullocking run from Brown sending the hosts surging towards the whitewash, loose play their undoing as the ball was eventually spilled and snaffled metres from the line.
From Conor Murray’s clearance, the Warriors mounted a more brawny assault on the Munster rearguard, rolling and rumbling their way back into the 22 with a driving maul that was collapsed illegally, allowing Russell to regain Glasgow the lead.
Townsend’s men were soon scrambling, though, when Niko Matawalu dallied on the ball near his own line, sufficiently so that his kick was charged-down. They escaped courtesy of one of the more bizarre sin-binnings you’ll see this season, Paul O’Connell diving and grappling his way round the side of the ruck in an effort to lay his sizeable paws on the ball that lay unguarded at Matawalu’s feet.
The Irish talisman was ordered off by Leighton Hodges sporting a look that was a mixture of wryness and incredulity.
Munster scarcely suffered in his absence, Hanrahan and Russell trading penalties, and the visitors managing proceedings with typical nous to wind down the clock and keep Glasgow pinned in their own half.
With their full complement restored, Munster continued to advance. Though aided in part by Hodges’ apparent ignorance of Murray rolling the ball in about the boots of his second-row at the set-piece, a probing Hanrahan grubber forced Matawalu to concede a lineout seven metres out in the last minute of the half.
The subsequent phases were classic Munster – patient, punishing forward play and a killer touch from Copeland who powered his way over from point-blank range, Hanrahan converting for a nine-point lead at the break.
Glasgow had a lot to do in the second half, but plenty time to do it. After a forgettable first ten minutes where the hosts went through phase after phase from midfield, looking largely toothless – their recent continental woes in microcosm – Nakarawa injected some much-needed impetus.
The Fijian’s octopus-arm offloading has gone viral in recent weeks, and he used his enormous reach and impressive dexterity to stretch through the tackles of Pat Howard and Felix Jones to ground the ball. Russell converted to cut the gap to two points.
Munster again looked to keep Glasgow hemmed in their own half as time wore on, and with the hosts struggling to negotiate any form of exit, it was a tactic that should have paid dividends.
But Hanrahan’s radar was on the blink: two straightforward shots at goal squandered, momentum shifted back the way of the Warriors.
Tommy Seymour’s introduction brought more panache and potency to the hosts’ back three, so too Henry Pyrgos added structure and patience when he replaced Matawalu for the final quarter.
Both were heavily involved in creating Glasgow’s second try. The former’s midfield burst, the latter’s snipe and offload to DTH van der Merwe sent the Canadian searing away to within an inch of the line, scattering defenders as he went.
From the scrum that followed, the hosts held their nerve, working through the phases until Nakarawa found his magnificent colleague in the engine room with space down the blindside to crash his way over.
Russell’s kicking difficulties resurfaced as he rattled the post with the conversion, and snatched at a penalty attempt that would have left Munster in need of a converted try for victory.
It made for a thrilling finale – perhaps a little too thrilling for Townsend’s liking – but the victory and the league table for now will offer the coach the perfect tonic after a fortnight of frustration.
Tries: Nakawara, Gray
Pen: Russell 3
Tries: Hanrahan, Copeland
Pen: Hanrahan 2
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Peter Horne, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Niko Matawalu, 8 Josh Strauss (c), 7 Tyrone Holmes, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 James Downey, 23 Tommy Seymour.
Munster: 15 Johne Murphy, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Pat Howard, 12 Denis Hurley, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Billy Holland, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 John Ryan.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Eusebio Guinazu, 18 BJ Botha, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Dave O’Callaghan, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Felix Jones.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland), Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Citing Commissioner: John Montgomery (Scotland)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
By Jamie Lyall