The Munster players line up before the game as the crowd pay tribute to Anthony Foley
On the most surreal of afternoons at Thomond Park, 14-man Munster put the devastating events of the last week to one side as they paid tribute to Anthony Foley in the best possible manner with a quite stunning 38-17 bonus-point victory over Glasgow Warriors.
Not even Keith Earls’ 18 minute red card could deny Munster as they somehow mustered the courage and strength to not only line out for today’s game but to put in a truly inspired performance.
The Fields of Athenry and There is an Isle rang around the dark and gloomy Limerick sky. Tears flowed from the eyes of men, women and children all the while both teams continued to go through their warm-up. How difficult it must have been for them.
At times, a sold-out Thomond Park was unsure how to react but this was very much a celebration of Foley’s life and his players fed off the special atmosphere in Limerick.
The deafening silence that fell around the ground just minutes prior to Munster’s arrival onto the pitch is something that no one inside the famous Limerick ground will ever have felt before but the intensity with which the home side started the game left little doubt that were on a mission.
It was Glasgow who were shellshocked and who could blame them but few would have predicted Munster playing with such incision and accuracy.
It’s often easy to forget just how good Tyler Bleyendaal is but the New Zealand born out-half is finally enjoying an injury free run and his performance went up another notch today.
It was Bleyendaal who scored the first of three first half tries as Jaco Taute and Simon Zebo followed him over the whitewash to give 14-man Munster a barely believable 24-3 half time lead. The bonus point arrived soon after.
How fitting it was that the foundations of the win was based around Munster’s utterly dominant pack. Glasgow could barely contain their maul, while at scrum time, Munster bullied the Scots. At times it was like watching the Munster of yesteryear.
But these are changing times down south as new leaders step up to the mark. Niall Scannell put in his best performance in a Munster jersey, while John Ryan’s reputation was once again enhanced.
Peter O’Mahony looked back to his best while CJ Stander, who was wearing the No 24 jersey as the No 8 was retired for the afternoon, was his typical brilliant self.
In truth, the Munster supporters needed something to shout about early on and the atmosphere wasn’t long in lifting as it took all of three minutes to carry out what they come here today to do.
Munster set up the maul and marched Glasgow back 15 metres in a manner that their fallen hero would have been proud of and just as they did many times with Foley in the side, they scored a brilliantly worked try off it.
Bleyendaal spotted a gap in Glasgow’s midfield and screamed at Earls to come in off his left wing just as the powerful rolling maul was halted. Thirty seconds later, Earls stormed his way through before an exquisite offload found Bleyendaal.
The Kiwi turned on the after burners and and his momentum eventually carried him over the whitewash to get Munster off to an ideal start.
Bleyendaal converted his own try but Munster’s indiscipline was punished seven minutes later when Finn Russell’s penalty in front of the posts cut the deficit.
The Munster out-half who was making his Champions Cup debut controlled the tempo of Munster’s play and they were as incisive as they have been for some time.
Just short of the quarter hour mark, they were at it again. This time Stander snatched Glasgow ball on the Scottish side’s 22 and in the blink of an eye Munster counter attacked.
Niall Scannell who carried well all afternoon made ground through the middle before his brother Rory took control and drew a couple of defenders before putting Taute over in the corner.
Bleyendaal’s touchline conversion bisected the posts for a 14-3 lead but a rush of blood to Earls’ head four minutes later damped the mood again.
Peter O’Mahony could be heard remonstrating with the referee that Fraser Brown had turned himself int he tackle but after deliberating with his TMO, Jerome Garces branded the red card and already difficult afternoon became even more so for Munster.
Earls was furious but in the modern game, the Limerick native could have had little complaint with the decision.
Russell missed the resulting penalty as the home supporters felt some degree of justice was served but 12 minutes later, it was Bleyendaal who extended Munster’s lead (17-3). They had even more reason to cheer after half an hour when Munster ran in their third brilliantly worked try.
Rory Scannell’s quick feet made the initial break and there was Zebo waiting on the left wing to score after Stuart Hogg failed to hold him in the tackle.
It was a brilliant finish by Zebo who somehow managed to keep his feet in play and Bleyendaal converted to open up 21-point lead going into the break.
Seven minutes after the restart the bonus point was sealed. Conor Murray had just been stopped short ofd the line before Munster repeatedly pummelled Glasgow at scrum time.
The pressure eventually told and Garces went under the posts and awarded the penalty try. Bleyendaal’s conversion put Munster 31-3 in front.
For the most part, it looked like Glasgow who were playing with the man less but Munster’s legs tired and Glasgow finally got over for a try when replacement hooker Pat MacArthur burrowed his way over from close range.
Hogg converted and suddenly Glasgow believed again. Despite Darren Sweetnam’s efforts, Mark Bennett added a second converted try with 10 minutes remaining to bring the score back to 31-17.
But just as they have done all week and just as they will need to do for the rest of the season, Munster summoned the strength from somewhere to seal the victory.
The forwards again battered their way around the fringes and Rory Scannell got over in the corner for a try that his fine performance deserved. Ian Keatley’s conversion put the icing on the cake of a victory that will never be forgotten in these parts.
This was a day that was all about Munster. Somewhere, Foley was smiling.
Munster – S Zebo (R O'Mahony 77); D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal (I Keatley 66), C Murray (D Williams 76); D Kilcoyne (B Scott 71), N Scannell (D Casey 61) (Scannell 67), J Ryan (S Archer 68); D Ryan (R Copeland 76), B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt) (J O'Donoghue 60), TO'Donnell, CJ Stander.
Glasgow Warriors – S Hogg; S Lamont, A Dunbar (M Bennett, 60), S Johnson, R Hughes; F Russell (P Murchie 60), H Pyrgos (A Price 48); G Reid (A Allan 26), F Brown (P MacArthur 47), Z Fagerson (S Puafisi 43); T Swinson, J Gray (capt): R Harley, R Wilson (L Wynne, 76), J Strauss (S Favart 33).
REF: J Garces (France)
By Cian Tracey