Munster and Glasgow Warriors meet for the first time in a Guinness Pro12 Final at the Kingspan Stadium this Saturday evening. Glasgow are aiming for their first and Scotland’s first Pro12 title, while Munster are looking to win their fourth crown and their first since 2011.
Gregor Townsend has done a remarkable job since taking over from Sean Lineen in 2012. Many people saw this as a controversial appointment but Townsend, in his first head coaching position, has brought a lowly Glasgow outfit to consecutive Pro12 Final’s.
The Warriors are an attractive side to watch with an expansive game plan. Their success is mainly down to the club’s recruitment policy under Townsend. He has brought in players like Niko Matawalu, Josh Strauss and Leone Nakarawa while also ushering young talent like Jonny Gray, Mark Bennett, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg. This has helped the high octane, expansive offload game be successful.
Glasgow have really made the breakthrough in the last two seasons, finishing 2nd and 1st in the league standings. They beat Munster in last year’s semi – final but the big occasion got to them in the final and Glasgow were easily beaten by Leinster.
Townsend and his squad will have learned plenty from that game looking ahead to this season’s final against Munster. In this year’s semi – final they didn’t panic and although they barely overcame Ulster, they were never out of the game.
Key for Glasgow in this game is gaining parity with Munster’s much vaunted pack. If they manage this, scrum half Henry Pyrgos, Stuart Hogg and the exciting Finn Russell could have a major impact in the game. If Hogg and Russell can create space, Glasgow will be confident of creating try scoring opportunities.
Warriors captain Al Kellock starts the game on the bench after being forced off with a head injury after 20 minutes in the Ulster game. He will provide a big boost when he comes onto the field in what will be his final game before retiring.
Munster are looking to finish the season on a high. A poor European campaign left the Pro12 as the only competition left to play for but the team rallied and have been superb in the second half of the season, losing only once since New Year’s Day.
Anthony Foley’s side go into the Final as slight underdogs which has traditionally suited Munster. With Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray now ruled out of the game, Munster’s odds will lengthen but the Red Army will still be very confident of winning.
In the semi – final they overcame a strong Ospreys challenge at Thomond Park but the poor kicking form of Ian Keatley is a genuine concern. The former Connacht and Leinster number 10 has had an inconsistent season but he has to be on top form if Munster are to be victors against Glasgow.
Duncan Williams performed well after replacing Conor Murray in the Ospreys game but will definitely be targeted by Glasgow. Like Keatley, he blows hot and cold but it is also vital that he is at his best on Saturday.
One area that Munster have excelled this season is their ability to score tries. They were the leading try scorers in the regular season and have an ability to score from virtually anywhere. CJ Stander in particular a danger for any opposition.
Stander been arguably the player of the season in the Pro12 and will be looking to finish a very productive season on the highest of notes. Keith Earls is also is sparkling form after returning from injury last January and will be hoping to impress the watching Irish management ahead of the World Cup.
One other bit of news emerging from the Munster camp ahead of the Pro12 final is the impending announcement that Paul O’Connell will be joining French giants Toulon. O’Connell has enjoyed a fantastic career at Munster and very few will begrudge him finishing his career in the south of France.
The benches will also play a huge part in deciding this final. On paper Glasgow have the stronger and more experienced bench with Kellock, Matawalu, Chris Fusaro, Duncan Weir and Sean Lamont. Munster will be confident of the impact their own subs can make a big impact with JJ Hanrahan, Jack O’Donoghue and James Cronin all well capable of adding something extra to the team.
This should be a tight game and much will depend on how Munster overcome the loss of star players Conor Murray and their captain Peter O’Mahony. For Glasgow it is imperative that they do not let the occasion get to them. Either way it should be an entertaining end to the Pro12 season.
15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Denis Hurley (C), 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Duncan Williams, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Paddy Butler, 6 Donnacha Ryan, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Billy Holland, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Subs: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 James Cronin, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 Sean Dougall, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Cathal Sheridan, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Ronan O’Mahony.
15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Peter Horne, 11 DTH Van Der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Josh Strauss (C), 7 Ryan Wilson, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Leone Nakarawa, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Gordan Reid.
Subs: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Al Kellock, 20 Chris Fusaro, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Sean Lamont.
Referee: Nigel Owens,
Assistant Refs: Ian Davies, Sean Brickell
TMO: Derek Bevan
Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast
Kick Off: 18:30pm