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Historical display as Glasgow Warriors refuse to bow to Munster

A game to test lungs and legs on the pitch and heartbeats in the stands.

Munster's James Coughlan and Ian Keatley haul Jonny Gray to the ground by any means possible following another driving run by the Glasgow forward.Picture: SNS
Munster's James Coughlan and Ian Keatley haul Jonny Gray to the ground by any means possible following another driving run by the Glasgow forward.Picture: SNS

At the end, you had to wonder if the Glasgow players heard the tumult of noise from the record Scotstoun crowd, for they were all but dead on their feet by then. A few collapsed, but when they rose from the turf they knew that history had been made, and a Scottish team had made it through to a major final for the first time in the professional era.

Glasgow have dazzled often enough during Gregor Townsend's two seasons in charge, but this was a performance of raw spirit, tenacity and pride. They held the slimmest of margins against the side recognised as the best there has ever been at coming from behind in the dying minutes. Glasgow played with skill and ambition, but their courage throughout was staggering.

The final, in two weeks' time, will be against the winners of today's other semi-final, between Leinster and Ulster. If Ulster can upset the odds then Glasgow will also have home advantage. If not, then the Warriors will be heading to Dublin.

Al Kellock beamed at the finish, as well he might. He also gave due thanks to the 10,000-strong crowd, who had played a marvellous part in creating an evening to remember. It was spine-tingling at times, nerve-shredding at others, but there was little doubt the better side had won.

Man of the Match Jonny Gray put in the kind of forceful shift Warriors fans have come to expect, but there were heroes throughout the side. Chris Fusaro was visibly cramping up with 15 minutes left, but he virtually had to be dragged off the pitch. Long after the final whistle, the wider Glasgow squad formed a huge circle on the pitch. To a man, they all had something to be proud of.

From the off, it had been clear that Munster were happy to use some of the cynical tactics that had earned them a win but few friends on their last visit to Scotstoun, in October. They opened the scoring with a short-range try by hooker and captain Damien Varley in the 10th minute, but its build-up was disfigured by an off-the-ball clash between Alex Dunbar and Keith Earls, in which Earls appeared to be the protagonist.

When referee Marius Mitrea viewed the fight footage and then ruled that the try was good, his decision was greeted with a mixture of outrage and astonishment by the home crowd. Similar sentiments seemed to flow through the Warriors' ranks. There was an extra bite in their running, an extra ounce of power in the tackle, and the Irishmen seemed happy to cough up penalties to take the sting out of the attacks that were coming their way.

Finn Russell missed the first of them from just inside the Munster half, but was surer with the second as he got Glasgow off the mark in the 17th minute. By then, Josh Strauss and Gray, Glasgow's very own bruise brothers, had already made an impact as they bashed their way round the fringes, but the Warriors struggled to find openings out wide out against the watertight Munster defence.

It was a lesson for Glasgow, for in their eagerness to get to one end of the pitch they left themselves exposed at the other. When Felix Jones and Sean Dougall worked an opening through the middle in the 30th minute, the Warriors' celebrated scramble defence was stretched. Simon Zebo crashed through, and Glasgow may well have been lucky that, after a ludicrously long delay, the tv official ruled that he had not grounded the ball correctly.

In light of that long wait, the fury of the crowd was understand-able when Mitrea did not call on the TMO after a Mark Bennett kick appeared to have been knocked into touch by a Munster hand and the touch judge gave the throw to the visitors. Understandable, but wrong, as the laws only allow referrals in cases of doubt over scores or potential foul play.

Yet their fury was appeased soon afterwards when another flagrant Munster attempt to slow Glasgow possession gave Russell another chance to inflict punishment. He duly hammered the ball between the posts, and with a couple of minutes left before half-time he struck an important psychological blow with his third successful strike, this time awarded at a scrum, to nudge Glasgow 9-7 ahead at the midpoint.

By then, Munster had suffered serious disruption in their backline, losing centre Casey Laulala and full-back Jones to injuries. However, Glasgow had also suffered a blow, losing Ryan Grant, who was replaced by Gordon Reid, in the 26th minute and Strauss four minutes later. Leone Nakarawa took over from Strauss, a move that was always likely to mean a more open game from Gregor Townsend's side.

Ironically, Nakarawa's No.8 pick-up at a scrum five minutes into the second period was a rather fumbled affair, but Chris Cusiter salvaged the situation brilliantly. The scrum-half's dart for the line was stopped, but Glasgow players queued up to take the ball on. Eventually, it found its way into the hands of Reid, and the replacement prop barrelled over in the left corner and scored.

The try and Russell's conversion brought roars of delight in the stands as the Warriors moved 16-7 ahead, but the crowd soon saw what a dangerous animal this Munster side can still be. In a sequence that could have been transplanted from their Heineken Cup glory years, a lineout in the corner led to a series of punishing drives, and flanker Dougall finished off with their second try.

Keatley's conversion attempt drifted wide, so Glasgow still had a four-point margin at the hour mark. What they didn't have at that point was Al Kellock, the captain having made way for Tim Swinson after a heroic but exhausting shift. Keatley scored with his first and last penalty of the evening with 15 minutes left, but Glasgow were not to be denied.

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