Only six points separate Glasgow Warriors and Munster in the Guinness PRO12, but since the two sides last met their fortunes have gone in differing directions.
Rassie Erasmus’ side hosted Glasgow at Thomond Park for a European Rugby Champions Cup game in the immediate aftermath of Anthony Foley’s passing and despite being down to 14 men for nearly 60 minutes, they roared to a 38-17 victory.
It was one of the most impassioned days in recent memory and Erasmus’ men are yet to lose since that day.
What’s at stake?
Gregor Townsend’s side are out of the top four and with Ulster and Cardiff Blues both pressing hard, the future Scotland coach knows that a win is essential.
Top of the table Munster have won their last five matches in all tournaments since their 25-14 reversal to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in the Guinness PRO12 in October.
Leinster are just a point behind them in the Guinness PRO12 and face Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS on Saturday and Erasmus must know that a win is necessary to keep up the pressure on their provincial rivals.
Yet Munster have struggled in recent years against the Warriors, they have just two wins in their last seven, while their only win at Scotstoun was in October 2013 and Friday represents a major test of their title credentials.
Team News (Glasgow Warriors): Ali Price makes an immediate return to the starting XV after winning his first Scotland cap against Georgia as Townsend looks to end a two-game losing streak.
Price – who created Scotland’s final try against the Lelos after breaking from deep – starts in the half-backs with Test teammate Peter Horne.
Townsend welcomes back ten internationals in total, with Sila Puafisi fresh from downing the Springbok-conquering Italian side.
Rory Hughes, who also had a hand in Stuart Hogg’s second score against Georgia, starts on the wing, with Mark Bennett and Nick Grigg in the centres.
Fraser Brown played in all three of Scotland’s autumn Tests, with Rob Harley and Ryan Wilson also back in action.
Team News (Munster): Having stepped into the fray in Ireland’s 27-24 win against Ireland last week, Peter O’Mahony is back to captain Munster as they look for their sixth consecutive win.
Tommy O’Donnell, 29, is set for his 100th Guinness PRO12 appearance, with Jack O’Donoghue moving to No.8 as Niall Scannell returns at hooker.
Rory Scannell, who was called into the Ireland training squad last week as potential cover for Jared Payne, is back in Munster colours alongside Jaco Taute in the centres.
Donnacha Ryan – a hero against the All Blacks early last month – starts on the bench.
Hooker Scannell acknowledged that despite their phenomenal performance to beat Glasgow in the Champions Cup, they are on an even footing on Friday night.
He said: “Scotstoun in general is just a very hard place to go and I think every opposition team knows that.
“It was a very emotional occasion last time out and fair play to Glasgow that day, they played their part and were very respectful of what we were going through.
“But that was just one game, and to do that three more times is no easy feat.”
Townsend believes his players have responded well to their 22-5 loss to Ospreys last time out and insists they must be at their best to break down Musnter.
He said: “It was great to see all the Warriors playing Test rugby over the past few weeks and we welcome a number of them back this weekend.
“The players have responded to last week’s defeat in a way we have come to expect from them – with positivity, effort and determination.
“Munster are well organised in defence, physical in contact and show innovation in attack. We’re going to have to be alert and at our best to come out on top.”
Key Battle: Tyler Bleyendaal put in a man-of-the-match showing against Benetton Treviso last time out and scored the opening try against Glasgow in the Champions Cup, but Ian Keatley starts on Friday and his showdown with Peter Horne will be pivotal in determining the outcome at Scotstoun.
Key Stat: The Warriors have not lost back-to-back games at Scotstoun in the Guinness PRO12 since going down to Munster and Newport Gwent Dragons there in October/November 2013.
Lions contenders: Many might have had Mark Bennett as an outside British & Irish Lions bet last year, but he fell behind Huw Jones this autumn and must get back to his best if he wants to feature for the tourists.
Similarly O’Mahony has a real task to get into a crammed Irish back row ahead of clubmate CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Josh van der Flier, his journey back to Joe Schmidt’s starting XV starts here.
Did you know? Glasgow on the other hand have slipped to two straight defeats in the Guinness PRO12, at Scarlets and at home to Ospreys, but have not lost three in a row in the Championship in the same season since 2010/11.
Glasgow Warriors: Peter Murchie, Rory Hughes, Nick Grigg, Mark Bennett, Tommy Seymour, Peter Horne, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown, Sila Puafisi, Tim Swinson, Rob Harley, Josh Strauss, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson (capt).
Replacements: Corey Flynn, Alex Allan, D’arcy Rae, Rob McAlpine, Langilangi Haupeakui, Nemia Kenatale, Rory Clegg, Lee Jones.
Glasgow Warriors: Top points scorer: Finn Russell 44 Top Try Scorer: Tommy Seymour 7
Munster: Andrew Conway; Darren Sweetnam, Jaco Taute, Rory Scannell, Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, Jack O’Donoghue.
Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Thomas du Toit, Stephen Archer, Donnacha Ryan, Robin Copeland, Te Aihe Toma, Dan Goggin, Alex Wootton.
Top points scorer: Tyler Bleyendaal Top Try Scorer: Ronan O’Mahony 4
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 28, Warriors won 11, Munster won 16 with 1 game drawn.
At Scotstoun Stadium, 7.35pm Live on BBC Alba and TG4
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 142nd competition game)
Assistant Referees: Dan Jones (WRU), Dunx McClement (SRU)
Citing Commissioner: Paul Minto (SRU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)
Ian Keatley scored a late drop-goal to secure a dramatic 16-15 victory for Guinness PRO12 leaders Munster away at Glasgow Warriors in a tight, tense game.
The league leaders surged out of the blocks and took control of the match thanks Keatley’s penalty and Andrew Conway’s try – but Glasgow surged back after the break.
Two tries from Ali Price and Mark Bennett looked to have won the game for Glasgow as they mounted an impressive second-half comeback.
But Keatley kept his cool to win the game for the Irish side, who retain their place at the top of the table.
Entering this contest, Glasgow Warriors were boosted by the return of eight international players following the end of Scotland’s fixtures – including the likes of Bennett and Tommy Seymour.
Munster recalled captain Peter O’Mahony, while Tommy O’Donnell made his 100th Guinness PRO12 appearance.
The league leaders made a fast start as Keatley scored the first points of the night with a simple penalty, minutes before full-back Conway scored the first try of the night after a neat move.
Keatley, so aware of the space out wide, sent a crossfield kick to the corner, where winger Darren Sweetnam knocked it down for Conway to score.
Glasgow responded through a Peter Horne penalty, but the fly-half only managed 22 minutes before an injury ended his evening prematurely.
The hosts recovered and piled the pressure on Munster and Dave Kilcoyne was sent to the sin-bin for an infringement at a line-out.
Munster recovered territory and possession and even had the chance to extend their lead with another Keatley penalty, which he sent sailing through the posts.
Things got worse for Glasgow after the break as Rory Hughes was stretchered off with an injury, and the game became scrappy with both sides struggling to retain the ball.
But Glasgow made Munster nervous as they closed the gap to within three points just after the hour-mark as they stole a line-out and made space for scrum-half Price to sneak through.
The game came alive, as Munster almost responded immediately as they charged down a clearance and almost won the race to the ball behind the try-line.
But Glasgow, in front of a roaring home crowd, took the lead as Bennett surged down the wing, cut inside and sprinted to the line for a memorable score.
However, if Munster want to be champions they know they have to respond to those situations and Keatley won the game with a drop-goal after a controlled drive.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
01 Dec 2016
01 Dec 2016