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Gregor Townsend has two weeks left in which to hit one of the biggest targets of his reign as Glasgow Warriors head coach – a coveted Champions Cup quarter-final place.
No wonder, then, that the former Scotland and British & Irish Lions outside half is describing his side’s Round 5 clash against Pool 1 leaders Munster Rugby at Scotstoun as one of the biggest games in Glasgow’s history.
Townsend, who guided the Warriors to the 2015 PRO12 title, moves on the Scottish coaching job in the summer and so this is his fifth and final shot at the last eight with his current side. They currently trail Munster by two points and have to head to Leicester Tigers in Round 6.
With 10 points still up for grabs there is so much still to play for in the pool and Townsend will want to see his side make amends for their two defeats already this season at the hands of mighty Munster. They were beaten 38-17 at Thomond Park in Round 2.
Munster moved to the top of the pool table with their 32-7 over Racing 92 last weekend in their re-arranged Round 1 fixture against the French champions. That was the first of two successive European away games for them this month as they play three weeks in a row.
While Munster were picking up five points in Paris, Townsend’s side were running in four tries to secure the bonus point victory over Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun that moved them into the play-off places at the top of the PRO12.
“The Cardiff win felt like a performance we’re very much capable of but there are still areas to improve. In defence we will need to work harder because we did concede a few line breaks and we know that Munster will come at us with ball in hand and are very physical,” Townsend told glasgowwarriors.org.
“It will be a real test of how we deal with their high balls and their set-piece challenge. We will have to be better if we want to win.”
Munster will win the pool with a game to go if they triumph at Scotstoun. Having missed out on the knock-out stages in the past two seasons it would be a major step forward for the club if they can do that.
- After back-to-back wins over Racing 92 in Rounds 3 and 4, Glasgow are on track for a third consecutive tournament victory for just the second time in their history (2011).
- Munster have won four of their five previous games against Scottish opposition in the Champions Cup, although they did lose on their last trip to Scotland (v Edinburgh 2013).
- If Munster manage to win at Scotstoun on Saturday they will book a place in the quarter-finals.
- Glasgow have scored 130 points in their last four home games in Europe's top flight, winning all four and conceding just 31 in reply.
- Two-time tournament winners, Munster, have conceded just 42 points this season, fewer than any other side. They're also the only team to have conceded less than one try per game on average (three in four games).
- Mark Bennett has averaged 14.9 metres per carry, the best average gain of any player to make at least 10 carries.
- CJ Stander has made 15 more carries (69) than any other player this season, and he is one of 12 players to play every minute of the opening four rounds.
- Munster and Ireland scrum-half, Conor Murray, has five try assists, equal top with Connacht's Jack Carty.
- Glasgow have this season's two leading tacklers in Jonny Gray (62/64) and Ryan Wilson (49/58).
- Munster have averaged more turnovers won per game (10) than any other side in the campaign.
- Glasgow however have conceded the joint fewest turnovers of any side on average (11 per game).
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Francis Saili scored a crucial late try to give Munster a narrow 14-12 victory over Glasgow Warriors and send them through the quarter-finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Saili, who replaced Jaco Taute in the second half, came up trumps with the game’s only score in the final 10 minutes as the visitors made the most of a yellow card for Stuart Hogg.
A tight match saw the boot dominate, but when it mattered most Saili’s effort proved the difference between the teams. A man light late on, Glasgow pushed to move back ahead but Finn Russell opted against a drop goal shot and his team went down to defeat.
With both sides in excellent form and Munster on the back of thrashing Racing 92 last weekend, an eagerly-anticipated encounter was on the cards.
And at a packed Scotstoun, the game didn’t disappoint.
A tight first period ended level at 6-6, the two sets of forwards going hell for leather at each other on a chilly Scottish night.
Glasgow fly-half Russell, so impressive in recent weeks, swapped penalties with opposite number Tyler Bleyendaal in an opening quarter which saw physicality and defensive organisation dominate proceedings.
Munster initially looked the more dangerous in attack, but after failing to make the most of a number of penalties, they slipped behind. Lions prospect Hogg nailed a long-range penalty to put Glasgow 6-3 up but after Bleyendaal had booted another kick and Hogg missed with a second monster effort, the two teams went into the break level.
It had been nip and tuck though there remained a feeling Glasgow were yet to fully find the attacking form which saw them do the double over Racing.
The start of the second period saw Russell and Bleyendaal then exchange further kicks at goal as the second 40 went a similar way to the first.
Conor Murray’s sublime kicking game ensured Munster kept things tight defensively, a big line-out steal in the 54th minute summing up their effort.
For all their resilience, though, the Irish side struggled in their search for a try and Russell’s third penalty of the evening made it 12-9 on the hour mark.
A raft of replacements were then introduced, but the key moment arrived with 10 minutes remaining. A Munster attack saw Andrew Conway put into space and the right wing looked like he was going to make it to the line.
He was scragged round the neck by Hogg and although the decision not to award a penalty try was the right one, the full-back correctly saw yellow.
Munster immediately took advantage and Saili’s try came less than a minute after Hogg walked from the field.
That, in the end, proved to be the winning moment.