After 22 rounds of rugby the final four of the Pro 12 has been decided. On Friday night Munster travel to Scotstoun looking to make amends for their dreadful showing the week before against Ulster in Limerick. Their opponents, Glasgow Warriors, will be looking to create history as the first Scottish team to reach the final.
If Rob Penney’s men wish to come away from Scotland’s second city with a win then their basics must be of a higher standard than was seen at Thomond Park last Saturday. Munster’s passing was abysmal against Ulster. The conditions were horrendous in Limerick but the amount of passes that were dropped and overthrown was unacceptable. The standard of passing meant that Munster’s back play was non-existent as they could not create any attacking momentum or take advantage of any overlaps.
The Reds’ set piece must operate at a higher level. Damien Varley’s darts were all over the place last week and Munster’s captain has to improve. Munster’s lineout will have to function as the maul will form an integral part of their attacking game plan on Friday as scoring chances against the league’s most miserly defence, only 22 tries conceded by Glasgow, will be at a premium for the men from Thomond.
2. Intensity & Mind-set
Much has been made of Munster’s lacklustre showing last week and many have attributed their poor performance to the fact that the Southern Province had little to play for. There was no intensity in the Red’s endeavours. Munster must hit Glasgow hard in open play and disrupt the Glaswegians’ rhythm at the ruck. If the Scottish side can rack up the phases and utilise their strike runners like Stuart Hogg and Nickola Matawalu, then it will be a long night for Penney’s charges. “Put ‘em under pressure” should be Munster’s mantra.
A team’s intensity is dictated by their mental state. Rob Penney’s main objective this week would have been to get his players’ frame of mind right for Friday night’s clash. When Munster’s head is in the game, the intensity produced will be top notch which in turn will be shown out on the paddock i.e. Toulouse. However, when the players’ focus is not 100 percent, the passion will be missing and the performance will be not of the required standard.
3. Thinking Correctly Under Pressure
They say the top two inches of the head in sport is as crucial as the physical battle. Captain Damien Varley was guilty of not using his brain against Ulster last week, turning down a simple three points to regain the lead and opting for a scrum from where Munster did not garner a score. Varley needed to make a cool, calculated decision but he got caught up in the heat of the battle and chose wrongly.
Conor Murray and Ian Keatley will also have to keep their heads as they decide how the Southern Province approach the game. They must judge correctly when to move the ball through the hands and when to put ball to leather. Too often this season and regularly under Penney’s reign Munster have tossed the ball about willy-nilly without any appreciation of whether the prospect of the running the ball is on or not. Stupid play will be punished by the Warriors.
4. Managing Matawalu
Glasgow’s Fijian firecracker of a scrum half is crucial to the Scottish team’s style of play and chances. Everything that is good about Glasgow’s backline play stems from Matawalu’s quick service. He will look to play the game at high tempo, flinging the ball out wide whenever the opportunity arises and will take quick tap penalties to keep Munster’s defence on their toes whilst trying to run Munster’s big pack off their feet.
Munster have to make Matawalu’s life a misery, unsettling the quality of ball the No. 9 has to work with and keep him under wraps at all costs. If Penney’s men can neutralise the scrum half’s threat, then they can gain the upper hand in the semi-final.
5. Experience & Exploiting Glasgow Nerves
What Munster have in abundance is big matchday experience. Many of the squad have been involved at the business end of competitions many times along with big Six Nations ties. More importantly they have the knowledge of winning the big knock out games. Glasgow, on the other hand, are playing the biggest game in their club’s history. Although they have many internationals in their squad, the most in the Pro 12, they rarely participate in occasions as big as a home semi-final.
The Warriors have played in three semi-finals before but in these games they were away from home and were considered underdogs. Being favourites and playing in front of their home support will create a wave of expectation and added pressure. Munster must exploit this. Scoring early and scoring often will create anxiety amongst the Glasgow ranks. Anxious players will make mistakes and it is imperative for Munster to feast on these errors.
The first playoff semi-final promises to be intriguing. Munster will be looking to give their coach, Rob Penney a chance to go out in a blaze of glory before he heads to the land of the rising sun. Whereas Gregor Townsend’s men will look to confirm their status as the Pro 12’s most improved outfit by making it to their first ever final and giving Scotland’s beleaguered rugby support a huge boost.
Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena.