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O'Connell's Munster fall to Nakarawa-inspired Glasgow in Pro12 final

Gregor Townsend’s side delivered a thrilling attacking performance to claim their first title.

Munster 13

Glasgow 31

Murray Kinsella reports from Kingspan Stadium

PAUL O’CONNELL’S MUNSTER career ended in defeat after Glasgow Warriors emerged as fully deserved 31-13 winners in the Guinness Pro12 final at Kingspan Stadium.

Simon Zebo tackled by Tommy Seymour Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Anthony Foley’s side were clearly second best, as the Scots thrilled the Belfast crowd with their four tries and generally ambitious attacking play. Out-half Finn Russell was a dominant force, although Fijian second row Leone Nakarawa stole the show and was unsurprisingly named man of the match.

Nakarawa laid on the Warriors’ first two tries with his sensational offloading ability in an opening 35-minute performance that left Munster utterly reeling. Though Foley’s men regathered composure either side of the break, Glasgow had the quality and depth to see out their first league title in comfort.

It comes as a hugely disappointing end to O’Connell’s time with Munster, who will look back on their desperately poor kicking, huge number of missed tackles and general disorganisation in that first half as the losing of the game.

The absent Conor Murray was sorely missed at scrum-half, while the injured captain Peter O’Mahony would also have been useful in helping to slow a Glasgow breakdown that operated at stunning speed.

Pro12 organisers might welcome a first Scottish winner of the competition and few neutrals will begrudge them their victory, particularly as it came on a foundation of clinical attack, not to mention their doggedness in terms of work-rate.

Glasgow’s first try came with just 10 minutes gone as Munster’s poor kicking game heaped the pressure on them, Townsend’s men only too happy to launch their threatening counter-attack against a weak chase.

The octopus-like Nakarawa was the creator, bursting through the frontline and then extending that one-handed offload of his to find Rob Harley, the flanker barrelling over from close range to allow Russell an easy conversion.

Leone Nakarawa and Ian Keatley Nakarawa was massively effective for Glasgow. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Glasgow came close again when Russell’s diagonal grubber just beat wing DTH van der Merwe to the touchline in the left corner, but Munster did at least summon the energy to win an impressive scrum penalty shortly after the quarter mark.

Having missed his first effort from 45 metres out on the right, Ian Keatley cooly slotted the resulting penalty. Any sense that Munster were finally in the game was swiftly burst.

Another poor exiting kick allowed Glasgow onto the front foot, Munster failing to halt the tidal wave of momentum. The Warriors attacked up the left touchline, Nakarawa again beating tackles before releasing a sublime offload to van der Merwe, who finished muscularly.

Russell added the conversion and also knocked over the extras for Glasgow’s third try. This one, in the 33rd minute, originated with Billy Holland’s knock-on in the Scots’ half, Nakarawa kickstarting the counter.

Glasgow’s rapid phase play again left Munster reeling and fullback Stuart Hogg stood Dave Kilcoyne up close to halfway, burning him on his outside shoulder, drawing in final defender Simon Zebo and sending Henry Pyrgos in under the posts. 21-3.

Somehow, Munster mustered a blow late in the half, with Duncan Williams central. Twice the scrum-half made sniping breaks at the fringes, dragging Foley’s side to within five metres of Glasgow’s tryline.

They battered and battered through O’Connell and co. before Keatley demanded the ball with advantage being played. His wide pass to Smith was slapped down, but the Australian centre scooped up the loose ball and showed strength to smash his way over.

Stuart Hogg celebrates with try scorer Henry Pyrgos Hogg teed up Pyrgos for the Warriors' third. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Owens went to the TMO to check for any potential knock-on and the finish itself, before Keatley added the crucial conversion. There was time for one more edgy exit from their 22 before the half-time whistle, but Foley would have accepted the 21-10 deficit at the break.

Munster emerged buoyed and began to fire their maul, bringing themselves close to a second score as hooker Eusebio Guinazu broke away from one set-piece, offloading to Williams, whose inside pass landed in O’Connell’s hands.

The lock powered forward and was held up over the line, but Munster’s increasing scrum dominance told as they won a penalty under the posts. The Irish province discussed scrummaging again, but opted instead for the three points.

Suddenly, the momentum was in Munster’s favour, further by a lineout steal from O’Connell and Zebo hacking a Glasgow knock-on deep into the Scots’ half, but the much-needed next score never came.

Foley opted to withdraw Keatley and send Hanrahan on at out-half, but before the Northampton-bound Kerryman could even touch the ball Glasgow had their fourth try.

With the rain beginning to fall in Belfast, the Warriors went through a multitude of phases metres out from the Munster line, forcing some heroic tackling, before Pyrgos switched play and Russell had the pace to dart outside Kilcoyne and score to the right of the posts, converting it himself.

Foley emptied his bench, as Townsend also withdrew key men Russell, Hogg and Nakarawa, the retiring lock Al Kellock drawing a rousing reception as he entered the fray for the final time in his career.

Dave Kilcoyne Dave Kilcoyne batters into contact for Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Replacement Duncan Weir was able to add a penalty to the Warriors’ tally as even the scrum began to fail for Munster, and though Foley’s side finished the game deep in Warriors territory they failed to fire another shot.

Back to the drawing board for next season, this time without O’Connell.

Munster scorers:

Tries: Andrew Smith

Conversions: Ian Keatley [1 from 1]

Penalties: Ian Keatley [2 from 3]

Glasgow scorers:

Tries: Rob Harley, DTH van der Merwe, Henry Pyrgos, Finn Russell

Conversions: Finn Russell [4 from 4]

Penalties: Duncan Weir [1 from 1]

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley (capt.), Simon Zebo (Ronan O’Mahony ’57); Ian Keatley (JJ Hanrahan ’57), Duncan Williams (Cathal Sheridan ’72); Dave Kilcoyne (James Cronin ’63), Eusebio Guinazu (Duncan Casey ’63), BJ Botha (Stephen Archer ’60); Billy Holland (Jack O’Donoghue ’60), Paul O’Connell; Donnacha Ryan, Paddy Butler (Sean Dougall – blood ’11 to ’19, permanent ’72), CJ Stander.

GLASGOW: Stuart Hogg (Sean Lamont ’63); Tommy Seymour, Richie Vernon, Peter Horne, DTH van der Merwe (Niko Matawalu ’71); Finn Russell (Duncan Weir ’66), Henry Pyrgos; Gordon Reid (Jerry Yanuyanutawa ’77), Dougie Hall (Fraser Brown ’62), Rossouw de Klerk (Jon Welsh ’53); Leone Nakarawa (Al Kellock ’66), Jonny Gray; Rob Harley (Chris Fusaro ’59), Ryan Wilson, Josh Strauss (capt.).

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

Attendance: 17,057.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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