Munster took a huge step towards not only a Guinness Pro12 top four spot, but also a home semi final, with a 10-7 win over Glasgow at Irish Independent Park.
The Irish side should have been out of sight by the time Stuart Hogg scampered down the touchline to pull the Warriors within three but they held on for the final ten minutes to secure their twelfth Pro12 win in thirteen games.
James Cronin crashed over in typical Munster style after four minutes and a penalty from Rory Scannell, who was an early replacement for the injured Tyler Bleyendaal, proved the difference.
Munster Emphasize Strength in Depth
Rassie Erasmus’ side headed into Saturday’s clash off the back of European Champions Cup quarter-final success, whereas Gregor Townsend was tasked with picking his side up from their loss to holders Saracens.
The perk for Townsend was the ability to pick from a fully fit side and Scottish internationals Hogg, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour and Jonny Gray were all present in Cork.
In contrast Munster were without Irish trio Conor Murray, Keith Earls and CJ Standers who are all currently on the injury list whilst Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo only made the bench. Nevertheless they found their weekly talisman in Conor Oliver who carried more than any forward and made more metres than any forward on the pitch to justify his step up from Munster ‘A’.
Precision Still Missing?
Munster will have no complaints about beating Glasgow – the team who outclassed them in the 2015 final and made last season’s semi-final – but in pursuit of the standards set by the 2006 and 2008 continent conquering side they are still some way off in terms of quality.
Twice Munster passed up or failed to nail opportunities that a truly top European side must take, and on other days they might not be so fortunate in securing victory.
A dropped pass in the first-half cost them a fantastic opportunity to further stamp their authority on the game and ten minutes before Hogg gave Glasgow hope, Ronan O’Mahony failed to ground the ball when over the try line after assistance from the TMO.
Jaco Taute’s beautifully timed path sent O’Mahony clear but the late ditch tackle did enough to put the Munster winger off and he knocked on with the whitewash at his mercy.
Battle for Top Spot Hots Up
A win over a quality side like Glasgow is always welcome, but it may prove to even more crucial than expected. Leinster traveled to the Ospreys and Munster fans must’ve been hoping that the Welsh side could do them a favour and take points off the Dubliners but it was not to be.
Nevertheless the gap at the top remains two points with three games remaining and Munster have a nine point cushion to fifth placed Ulster who travel to Thomond Park next weekend before they play Treviso and Connacht.
Leinster travel across Ireland to Galway where they will play Connacht before hosting Glasgow at the RDS in the penultimate round which could prove pivotal in securing top spot with the Warriors still harbouring strong top four hopes.
Their final match is a trip to the Kingspan where they will take on Les Kiss’ Ulster who also have aspirations of a top four spot.
Munster certainly have the easier of the two run-ins but they are dependent on their rivals dropping points. In all honesty, first or second both come with home quarter finals so the difference between them is little, but with Munster and Leinster clearly the two best teams in the competition this year might top spot provide the psychological edge should they meet in the final on 27th May.
The returning Taute was his usual rock hard self as he led the tackles chart for Munster on Saturday with 18. Andrew Conway, playing due to Zebo’s spot on the bench took his chance to impress as he made 90 metres with his ten gainline successes.
Francis Saili at 13 was his usual all action self and was only just pipped to the MOM award by young Oliver. His 41 metres made go alongside the 16 tackles he made whilst also helping out with a turnover.
As with Munster, there is always room for improvement and the amount of missed tackles will keep defence coach Jacques Nienaber busy this week as he strives for the perfection that only Munster Rugby demands.