SIMON LEWIS: Reality check for Reds as Quins looming large

Munster supporters have been used to setbacks in advance of must-win Heineken Cup games but rarely can there have been one of such seismic proportions as the province experienced in Glasgow last night.

With a European quarter-final looming next weekend in London against Heineken Cup top seeds Harlequins, Munster slumped not just to their biggest defeat of the season but the 51-24 scoreline at Scotstoun in this RaboDirect Pro12 meeting represented the heaviest defeat for nine years.

Not since Cardiff scored a 60-14 end of season victory over a sorry Munster outfit at the Arms Park in April 2004 have the Reds conceded a half-century of points and head coach Rob Penney has an awful lot of work to do to turn this ship around before his side visits The Stoop next weekend.

There was very little that was good about this Friday and the New Zealander will have to earn his pay cheque if Munster are regroup in time for their April 7 meeting in south-west London.

Not since Ospreys ran riot at the Liberty Stadium in last season’s Rabodirect Pro12 semi-final have Munster been so torn asunder. That was Tony McGahan’s final game as head coach before returning home to Australia and although Penney is just starting out on his project to deliver a new team and playing style to the province, he can hardly have imagined being presented with such a challenge eight days out from a Heineken Cup quarter-final.

It was only a week ago that Munster blanked Connacht 22-0 at Musgrave Park and there was genuine optimism that Penney’s squad had turned a corner after a pretty dreadful Six Nations window which had seen the province defeated at Scarlets and Treviso before a lacklustre Thomond Park draw with Ospreys.

From the off Penney warned that his first season in charge would be something of a rollercoaster experience and to his credit, he repeated the promise last week in Cork. And so it came to pass that after a slow incline Munster fans experienced a rapid descent.

Glasgow, who returned to the league summit with this thoroughly deserved bonus-point victory, scored six tries, an astounding three of them intercepted.

Munster could count themselves unlucky to be 20-15 down at half-time but Glasgow turned on the afterburners in the second half and Munster were no match.

The positives? Well, his opening gift aside, Laulala played possibly his best game since his summer move from Cardiff Blues, his offloads were effective and he was strong in defence. And Paul O’Connell completed another 75 minutes along the road to full match sharpness. Munster will need every minute he can summon in Twickenham next week and there will be the much-needed returns of internationals Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony to the ranks, possibly Donnacha Ryan, and maybe, just maybe, Simon Zebo.

They can’t come back soon enough and yet Harlequins have the attacking firepower and more to do exactly the same to Munster as Glasgow managed. It could get ugly.

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