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FEATURE After sacking Munster’s fortress, can Glasgow tame Bulls at Loftus?

After sacking Munster’s fortress, can Glasgow tame Bulls at Loftus?
1 month ago

Graham Rowntree stood before the camera, the lines on his forehead furrowing deeper by the second. He shifted from foot to foot and scratched at the back of his neck. His eyes were trained mostly on the floor and the first word out of his mouth spoke volumes. “Christ”.

Rowntree wore the look of a man who had just seen a ghost, except that spirit had not just presented itself to him but snatched away his chance of retaining the URC crown and hosting the showpiece match in his team’s iconic back yard.

“That’s gonna sting for a while, I’m not going to lie to you,” he went on. “You’ve got to take your chances in this game… cruel…”

Graham Rowntree
After winning last year’s title on the road, Rowntree’s Munster missed the chance to defend their crown on home soil (Photo Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Rowntree’s assessment of the semi-final, tinged with incredulity, was fair. Munster did not take their chances. They had Glasgow on the ropes over and over and could not land a telling blow. The Warriors were down to 14 men twice. In the opening 10 minutes, they conceded six penalties. By half-time, that tally was approaching double figures. They’d mustered 35% possession and 34% territory and made close to 100 tackles, yet went into the sheds 7-3 up.

There was a degree of self-harm in this from Munster’s perspective. All that ball and all that field position, and so little to show for it. They got confused and loose in midfield and bungled a pass and that was all Kyle Steyn needed to gobble up the Thomond metres and score the half’s only try. They were turned over too often. Their lineout was a little ropey. Their scrum wasn’t a banker either.

Munster can point to their errors and their profligacy but that only tells part of the story. For Glasgow defended heroically. Franco Smith’s heart beats for attacking rugby but he understands the priceless currency of an aggressive rearguard. The post-match stats sheet from ESPN showed Glasgow attempted 165 tackles and finished with a 90% success rate.

This was a day Glasgow’s go-to men delivered emphatically. One of those rare occasions for a Scottish team against an Irish heavyweight when they had the maturity and mentality to prevail. The tables turned and Thomond hushed. That alone is a sizeable mental hurdle.

So much of their good work off the ball was done in their own 22. Glasgow’s tackle selection was excellent. They went after the breakdown like wild dogs. After Tadhg Beirne pocketed a couple of early burgles, that trench warfare was largely the Warriors’ domain. There were phenomenal pilfers from Rory Darge metres from his own line. Sebastian Cancelliere reads plays from out wide as a maths genius assesses an equation and has a power-to-weight ratio that practically makes him an extra flanker.

In truth, Cancelliere is Glasgow in microcosm. He drags you off your seat with his raw running power and catches the eye with what he does out of possession. He finished off Glasgow’s second score, the kind of scything move Smith’s blueprint has conjured so many times. Tom Jordan fielded a drop-out in the away 22 and rather than hoof it back, curled his lip like a bull about to charge, and set off towards the red chasers. Glasgow were quick to react; Darge seeing the space and the speed lurking on his right; Huw Jones carving a deep gash through the middle; Cancelliere on his shoulder to carry it home. An 80-metre worldie. The Argentine is at the top of his game. That’s four tries in as many matches now.

Sione Tuipulotu
Sione Tuipulotu was a dynamic presence for Warriors with his strong carrying and slick passing (Photo Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

This was a day Glasgow’s go-to men delivered emphatically. One of those rare occasions for a Scottish team against an Irish heavyweight when they had the maturity and mentality to prevail. The tables turned and Thomond hushed. That alone is a sizeable mental hurdle.

Sione Tuipulotu was a colossus. Glasgow needed his brawn as much as his agile brain. He got them over the gainline and dragged Munstermen with him. Nobody on the field made more carries or broke more tackles.

Matt Fagerson, too, was a monster in the collisions. The flanker has been on the sore end of many Celtic shootouts and it felt like he wore that pain in Limerick, harnessing past anguish and channelling it through a series of Munster ribcages.

Zander Fagerson doesn’t have the cult following of the Boks Bomb Squad or Tadhg Furlong or Uini Atonio. He is the most important Scottish forward anywhere and his profile deserves to be higher.

And Scots should be screaming from the rooftops about his big brother, Zander. The elder Fagerson goes to the well more often than Jack and Jill. He played 70 minutes in the quarter-final and another 80 at Thomond, carrying with wonderful dynamism, making more tackles than any other player and crucially, anchoring the scrummage to the very last. Fagerson doesn’t have the cult following of the Boks Bomb Squad or Tadhg Furlong or Uini Atonio. He is the most important Scottish forward anywhere and his profile deserves to be higher.

Jordan vanquished the demons of last year, when he was sent off for striking Conor Murray high in a tackle. Glasgow were declawed as an attacking force in his absence. Not this time. Jordan has a physical profile unlike most fly-halves; a tall, muscular specimen who relishes the gainline skirmishes. He finished the game swathed in bandages around his head.

The New Zealander was rejected by a slew of third-tier English clubs only a few years back, wondering where his face would fit and whether his rugby dreams would wither. Now he’s a URC finalist. Jordan roared as loud as any Warrior when the final whistle sounded.

Tom Jordan
Tom Jordan played a crucial role in Glasgow’s second try and showed bravery in attack and defence (Photo Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Glasgow got more from their bench than Munster got from their vaunted equivalent, too. Max Williamson and Henco Venter and Oli Kebble had major contributions. Scrum-half Jamie Dobie, once more, deputised as a winger.

And how the whole 23 will be needed again in South Africa. The Bulls, on the Highveld, are a nigh-unstoppable, immovable juggernaut. Almost nobody conquers Loftus, where the air is thin and the athletes enormous. But it would be grossly insulting to ascribe their home record purely to those factors. Jake White has constructed a squad capable of winning in several ways. They can trash you with their titans or shred you with their sports cars. There is no meaner pack in the competition, no wilier conductor than Willie Le Roux and few more balanced squads.

Don’t come to Loftus and think it’s going to be a fun day for you… this is our home and you don’t come and mess around with us.

White has a reputation for favouring fire over flair, pragmatism over panache. That’s a huge part of the Bulle heritage, no question, and the rugby on which White has built his considerable reputation. In these heartlands, belligerence is non-negotiable. Leinster’s Irish galacticos will resemble the contents of an old fruit bowl for the next few days.

Cameron Hanekom, the Bulls’ young tearaway, said it best in the aftermath: “Don’t come to Loftus and think it’s going to be a fun day for you… this is our home and you don’t come and mess around with us.”

Hanekom is 22 and played a whale of a game against the Leinster trio of Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris. He was top in nearly every metric – carries, tackles, line breaks, defenders beaten and turnovers won. We’ll be talking about him for a very long time. Glasgow will be speaking about the young Bok-in-waiting plenty this week.

They’ll also have to contend with Marco van Staden and Elrigh Louw, Ruan Nortje and Akker van der Merwe, Johaan Grobbelaar, Wilco Louw and Gerhard Steenkamp and a whole host of specimens who can turn rugby teams to rubble. Marcell Coetzee will be lusting to return from injury for the big dance.

David Kriel
Glasgow struggled to cope with the Bulls’ power last month before mounting a late comeback (Photo Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

But the Bulls are so much more than a 10-man team of behemoths. Since they joined the URC, White has had them weaving some beautiful rugby. The foundations are laid by the men hewn from granite, but those human wardrobes are just as comfortable marauding on open prairie and flipping offloads.

In Le Roux, they have perhaps the finest attacking mind in world rugby. A man whose brain works twice as fast as everyone else’s. He is a tremendous foil for the creative Johan Goosen at fly-half. David Kriel runs like a deer and hits like a sledgehammer in midfield. They were missing Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie on Saturday but Sergeal Petersen has wheels and verve and hoovered up two well-taken tries.

Glasgow were in Pretoria barely a month ago and looked dead and buried by half-time. They trailed 37-10 with 18 minutes left before almost yanking the most extraordinary comeback from within themselves. In the end, the Bulls won by six points. The Warriors cannot be blasted away like that again; they cannot begin scaling a mountain in the last quarter of a final.

They’ll be rank outsiders at Loftus, but they’ve already sacked one mighty fortress. Storm the African ramparts, and these Glaswegian gladiators will enshrine themselves forever in Scottish rugby folklore.

How will they fare when the legs scream and the lungs scorch? When the whistles and heckles of tens of thousands rattle in their ears, they are gasping for breath and the stadium is closing in around them? When the Bulls tank revs and their rapiers get shifting? It’s a fascinating prospect for a coming team. A trip to Pretoria ranks among rugby’s ultimate challenges. But it is an opportunity these Warriors have earned.

There are some parallels with Glasgow’s greatest vintage. A team of bold Scots and shrewd recruits who made two semi-finals, a final, and then eventually, the promised land of the Pro12 title nine years ago.

Glasgow were quarter-finalists in 2023. They got to the Challenge Cup final and capitulated there. They look tougher and smarter for the heartache. They had chances to make the endgame less frenetic at Thomond. There was red-zone possession and, late on, Alex Nankivell sent off. The game management could still be sharper in those key throes, but they got over the line when so many Scottish sides before them have lost their heads and found a way to lose. It was an away result to be housed with the club’s very best.

From fourth place – Munster won it from fifth 12 months ago – they’ve given themselves a shot. They’ll be rank outsiders at Loftus, but they’ve already sacked one mighty fortress. Storm the African ramparts, and these Glaswegian gladiators will enshrine themselves forever in Scottish rugby folklore.

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Comments

6 Comments
W
Wern 33 days ago

Bulls owes the Warriors big time for having the final at Loftus. Hopefully they won’t return any favors right now.

b
bob 34 days ago

Hopefully we see a cracker of a game.
The intensity of the Bulls/Leinster game was frightening.
But if Le Roux does not play the Bulls attack may be weakened.
Whatever, a chance for another young player.

S
Shaylen 34 days ago

Bulls and Glasgow played their best games last week. It will be very difficult for both of them to get up and do it again. Have a feeling it will come down to who makes the least errors and who has the stamina is the last quarter

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