Preview: PRO12 Final

Date published: May 29 2015

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After finishing first and second in the standings and winning their respective play-offs, Glasgow and Munster meet in the PRO12 Final.

Deserving? Plenty will say yes but they were made to sweat by Ulster and Ospreys respectively as the Warriors needed a late converted try to get the win, while Munster were fortunate that a knock-on at a ruck stopped the Welsh region being awarded what would have been a match-winning try.

'What ifs' and the like aren't in the minds of Glasgow and Munster going into this Saturday though for what should be a tense 80 minutes of rugby.

Munster suffered a setback last weekend when scrum-half Conor Murray suffered an injury and his absence at the base tips the scales in Glasgow's favour somewhat. He misses out and the sweating coach now switches from Anthony Foley to Joe Schmidt as Ireland up their World Cup preparations.

They have leaders elsewhere and Paul O'Connell was his usual supreme self around the field against the Ospreys. He is likely playing in his last PRO12 game, with the same to be said for Glasgow's Al Kellock, so expect some emotion between two international stalwarts of Ireland and Scotland, whose sides have each won their respective home game against each other this season.

Glasgow could say they were missing more star players during February's game in Cork but credit where it's due, Munster did impress on that day. After the early deadlock was broken with two late tries in the first-half, they went on to score two more to seal the 22-10 bonus-point victory.

"It's going to be a great game. Every time we have played them in recent years has made for very exciting encounters and this weekend won't be any different with both sides bringing out the best in each other. We'll certainly have our work cut out for us," said Munster captain Peter O'Mahony who will be absent with a hip injury.

Munster will be missing two key members of their squad with injuries to Murray and O'Mahony both ruled out. In their place Duncan Williams will start at scrum-half while Billy Holland comes into the second row as Donnacha Ryan shifts to blindside.

They have made three changes in total, with the other switch seeing BJ Botha start at tighthead prop.

Meanwhile Glasgow have made seven changes from the team that beat Ulster in the semi-final with the majority coming up front. The only change in the backline sees DTH van der Merwe come in for Niko Matawalu.

In the front row Gordon Reid and Dougie Hall start at loosehead and hooker respectively while Leone Nakarawa replaces Al Kellock in the second row. 

Finally in the back row there are starts for Rob Harley and Ryan Wilson, who replace Chris Fusaro and Adam Ashe, with Josh Strauss moving to number eight and also taking over the captaincy.

Ones to watch:

For Glasgow: He is bowing out in a Glasgow jersey after an excellent three seasons in Scotland. Niko Matawalu has been a livewire at wing and scrum-half over the years and so often creates something out of nothing for Gregor Townsend. When he shines, the opposition are in trouble. Fly-half Finn Russell must also show the same level of calmness in the final that he showed last week, especially off the tee in such a contest.

For Munster: The absence of Conor Murray means Duncan Williams has a fair bit of weight on his shoulders going into this Ravenhill clash. The 29-year-old is hardly a newbie though, with the scrum-half fast approaching 100 appearances for Munster. Ian Keatley and an in-form forward pack should help him get to grips with final pressure and one man in particular, Paul O'Connell, is expected to be leading by example in Belfast.

Head-to-head: We go for two box office wings as the former Ulsterman, Tommy Seymour, goes up against Simon Zebo on Saturday. Seymour has been superb in 2014/15 while Zebo will hope for a big-match performance to keep his hopes of starting for Ireland in the Rugby World Cup alive.

Form: Munster are chasing a fourth PRO12 title and their first since they won the final against Leinster at Thomond Park in 2011. That was their most recent appearance in a major final and was their fifth successive victory in the final of all tournaments they have contested. The Munstermen are unbeaten in their last six PRO12 encounters, since losing 12-26 at Ospreys in Round 17 – their only defeat in the tournament since New Year's Day. Munster have won both of their encounters with Scottish opponents in 2015, but have triumphed only once in Belfast in their last eight visits. Glasgow Warriors are bidding to become the first Scottish side ever to carry off the PRO12 title, and are playing in a second successive final following their defeat to Leinster at the RDS Arena 12 months ago. That was Glasgow's only previous appearance in the final of any major competition. The Warriors solitary defeat in their last seven PRO12 encounters was 10-21 at Ospreys on May 8. Warriors have lost just two of their nine fixtures with Irish provinces this season – at Ulster in October and at Munster in February. The Scotsmen's only victory at Kingspan Stadium in their last six visits since 2009 was 13-12 over hosts Ulster in September 2013. Munster's 22-10 victory over the Warriors in Cork in Round 16 ended a three-game losing run to the Scotsmen, including a 16-15 reversal at Scotstoun in last season's play-off.

Prediction: The bookmakers have the Scots as underdogs at Ravenhill but we think they might edge this to end their drought. Glasgow by 2!

The teams:

Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Peter Horne, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Josh Strauss (c), 7 Ryan Wilson, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Gordon Reid    
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Al Kellock, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Sean Lamont

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Denis Hurley (c), 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Paddy Butler, 6 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Billy Holland, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Sean Dougall, 20 Jack O'Donoghue, 21 Cathal Sheridan, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Ronan O'Mahony

Date: Saturday, May 30
Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies (WRU), Sean Brickell (WRU)
TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)

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