Eyes turn quickly towards Europe

IF this is a phoney war, then Toulon will be completely bamboozled when they sit down and watch the video of Munster’s final Magners League match before returning to European duty next Sunday in the south of France.

Given the Munster players’ ability to play out of their skins when required on the most important occasions, there will be little for next weekend’s Heineken Cup opponents to glean from this narrow victory over Glasgow Warriors at Musgrave Park.

Munster park their Magners League campaign temporarily with a healthy nine-point lead at the top of the table after their 22-20 win in Cork. And they will turn their minds quickly to the must-win trip to Toulon satisfied that they appear to be continuing to climb out of the ditch into which they were deposited by Ospreys in Wales on December 18.

Three Magners wins from three, over Connacht, Ulster and now Glasgow, have followed, each one a step in the right direction but, going on Saturday’s display, Munster still need a mighty lift in performance levels if they are to return from Toulon with the victory to keep their European campaign alive.

Yet there is nothing like a Heineken Cup week to galvanise mind and body and Munster will be looking heartily towards the resumption of what really, truly matters.

The change in competition should bring a switch in gears but with countdown having commenced to their date with destiny, the question remains whether it will be like the Musgrave Park scoreboard clock, running perhaps a little too quickly?

In Cork on Saturday night, it had ticked into the 84th minute, some 10 minutes ahead of the referee’s watch, when Ronan O’Gara landed the penalty that edged Munster past a spirited Warriors side.

For the second week in a row, it had needed a second-half awakening to complete victory. Munster, 3-10 down, needed a stiff half-time talking to from coach Tony McGahan, a slice of fortunate officiating and the unerring boot of O’Gara to get them out of trouble.

The 74th-minute penalty was the fly-half’s sixth successful kick of the night from six, bringing his tally to 17 of Munster’s 22 points against a team that had managed just two away wins in 2010, both last season.

David Wallace provided the rest with help from his fellow forwards as Munster drove over for a 62nd minute try.

Needless to say, the Irish province will need more weapons in their arsenal than a pushover that if they are to get the job done in Toulon.

After a few weeks of hand-wringing over the scrum, it was the lack of penetration from the backs at Musgrave that opened up a different avenue of concern for McGahan and his staff.

Munster wings Johne Murphy and Denis Hurley, a late call-up for Doug Howlett, who was rested as a precaution due to a calf strain, were lively and effective when they got the ball but they did not get it nearly enough on a night when off-loads seemed to be a rarity.

The first-half had been characterised by a penalty count that reached double figures, 11-2 in Glasgow’s favour, although one Scottish indiscretion saw lock Richie Gray sin-binned early on for killing the ball. Munster, though, failed to capitalise and then shipped a try themselves just before the interval when Glasgow centre Max Evans was not troubled by the home tackling and off-loaded to scrum-half Colin Gregor to score under the posts, Ruaridh Jackson converting.

Indeed, it was only when they were short-handed that the game turned in Munster’s favour.

Keith Earls saw yellow on the stroke of half-time when Welsh referee James Jones took exception to his enthusiastic cleaning out at a ruck in front of the Glasgow posts but when the teams emerged after the break, it was the Scots who began to fall foul of the whistle.

O’Gara kicked three penalties without reply to put Munster in front by the time Earls returned to the action. Wallace’s try, after a great kick to the corner from O’Gara, was awarded courtesy of the video referee and the successful conversion gave the home side a 19-10 lead, only for them to allow the visitors back into the game. DTH Van der Merwe crossed the line in the corner and coasted unhindered behind the posts to touch down with Jackson’s conversion narrowing the gap to just two points.

Jackson added a drop goal minutes later and Glasgow were back in front before Munster rallied through their pack, this time being held up under the posts. The resulting five-metre scrum finally saw a much-needed burst of pace out wide as Earls passed to Hurley, only for Glasgow full-back Bernard Stortoni to intervene as he tried to wrap up the Munster centre.

The knock-on was deemed, harshly by referee Jones in consultation with his touch judge, to have been deliberate and the irate Glasgwegians saw Stortoni binned and O’Gara slot over the penalty.

There was still work to do as Munster gave themselves extra defensive practice after an injudicious kick ahead from Paul Warwick handed the ball back to Glasgow to try and win the game again. A Munster turnover soon followed and after the ball stayed alive into what was genuinely the 84th minute, the Warriors were finally shoved into touch to end the game. Not a moment too soon.

Munster finished with an admirable commitment in defence that had served them so well in the dying minutes of round three at home to the Ospreys. That, and much more, will be necessary at Stade Felix-Mayol next Sunday.

MUNSTER: P Warwick; Denis Hurley, K Earls, L Mafi, J Murphy; R O’Gara, P Stringer (T O’Leary, 66); Darragh Hurley, D Varley, J Hayes (P Borlase, 44); D O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll, J Coughlan (Donnacha Ryan, 66), D Wallace (N Ronan, 74), D Leamy (capt).

Yellow card: K Earls, 41-51 mins

GLASGOW: B Stortoni; A Dunbar (D McCall, 59), M Evans, P Murchie (P Horne, 9-17 & 52), DTH van der Merwe; R Jackson, C Gregor; R Grant (J Welsh, 54), D Hall (P MacArthur, 61), M Low (K Tkachuk, 74); R Gray, A Kellock (capt); R Harley, J Barclay, J Beattie (R Wilson, 74).

Yellow card: R Gray, 12-22 mins; B Stortoni, 74mins

Referee: J Jones (Wales).

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