Planet Rugby

Preview: Glasgow v Munster

15th May 2014 12:47

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SKY_MOBILE Jonny Gray Glasgow Warriors

Engine room: Jonny Gray

Reaching a home Pro12 semi-final for the first time, Glasgow will welcome Rob Penney's Munster to Scotstoun on Friday.

On the face of things, it appears Glasgow boss Gregor Townsend may have been nursing that most overused and irritable of sporting clichés, the selection headache for much of the past week.

In reality, it is likely the head coach and Scotland record-breaker has been clear in his mind the makeup of his starting XV since Saturday's 52-0 thrashing of Zebre.

He has depth in every position, with a tight-knit squad where everyone seems to be playing well and thoroughly enjoying their rugby.

So much so that Fijian flyer Niko Matawalu is benched, and there is no place in the squad for British and Irish Lion Stuart Hogg, with the in-form Peter Murchie given the nod at full-back.

The little-known pivot Finn Russell starts at ten having burst onto the scene mid-season, while there is no place for Duncan Weir. In the second-row, Jonny Gray teams up with skipper Al Kellock.

It is widely known that Townsend is being groomed for Scottish rugby's top job, and on the evidence of the past two seasons, it would take a brave man to bet against the ex-playmaker taking over the reins at the conclusion of Vern Cotter's tenure.

Certainly, he deserves huge credit for the way he has built upon and enhanced the framework put in place by predecessor Sean Lineen.

The men under his watchful eye constitute without doubt the form team in the Pro12, winning at Thomond Park, trouncing Ulster, Edinburgh and the two Italian sides as well as notching home wins over the Scarlets and Ospreys.

Their current run of eight successive victories is a record for the club, and it means they head into the playoffs riding a wave of confidence.

But it is worth remembering that, way back in October, it was Rob Penney's side that inflicted upon Glasgow one of only two Scotstoun defeats this season. In the West Scotland drizzle that Friday night, the hosts dominated possession and territory, but in true Munster fashion, the red jerseys held firm, frustrating their opposition and steered to success by a wonderful JJ Hanrahan performance.

Despite strolling their way to the semi-finals, and reaching the same stage of the Heineken Cup - where they performed admirably against Toulon in Marseille - the Thomond Park boys have been a tad patchy of late; thumping wins over Edinburgh and Connacht marred by those disappointing losses to Glasgow and Ulster at their Limerick fortress.

Penney, in his final season at Munster, has been awarded the Pro12 Coach of the Season gong, a decision that irked many in Scotland's largest city who felt the efforts of their own leader, with resources far lesser than those on the Emerald Isle, warranted greater recognition.

Penney names what most would consider his best available side, captained by Damien Varley and featuring hard nuts aplenty up front. Paul O'Connell and Dave Foley pair up in the second-row, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls are out wide, while Casey Laulala partners James Downey in midfield.

Form: Glasgow Warriors have reached the Play-Offs for the third successive season, in fact there have only been five seasons of Play-Offs and Warriors have been in them four times, but this will be their first home tie.

In that time an away side has never won a Play-Off game. Warriors have won their last eight RaboDirect PRO12 matches, their best ever sequence in the history of the tournament.

Glasgow have also won their last seven contests at Scotstoun since Toulon beat them there in the European Cup on 18th January. Glasgow have been defeated in all five semi-final matches they have played in all competitions.

Munster have also reached the Play-Offs in four of the last five years, but their only victory in those contests was when they beat Ospreys 18-11 at Thomond Park in 2011; this represents Munster's only victory at the last four stage of any competition in their last eight attempts.

The Munstermen have won just two of their last five PRO12 fixtures but one of those was in Scotland, against Edinburgh at Meggetland.

Prediction: The Warriors will continue their superb run and clinch victory by four points to reach a maiden PRO12 final!

The teams:

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Al Kellock (c), 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Ryan Grant
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Leone Nakarawa, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Sean Lamont

Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Dave Foley, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley (c), 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Paddy Butler, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Andrew Conway

Date: Friday 16th May
Venue: Scotstoun
Kick-off: 1935 BST
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Ita)
Assistant referees: Giuseppe Vivarini, Stefano Penne (both Ita)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Ita)

by Jamie Lyall

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