MUNSTER will put their 100% Pro14 record on the line at Scotstoun on Monday evening against the Glasgow Warriors in a game that has been one of the toughest assignments of the season for Munster in recent years.
Due to the Covid-curtailed campaign of last year the last time Munster travelled to the venue in this competition was more than two years ago in September 2018, when Munster suffered a resounding 25-10 defeat.
That was when the Warriors were at their peak though, before Stuart Hogg departed for the Exeter Chiefs, with that side losing a closely fought final that year by 18-15 in Celtic Park to Leinster.
Twelve months earlier it was even worse, with Glasgow securing a bonus point victory after only 62 minutes on the clock as they routed Munster 37-10. Munster’s last victory at the venue came almost four years ago, when a late drop goal from then Munster outhalf Ian Keatley secured a nailbiting 16-15 win at the death.
However, Glasgow were well beaten in their last two appearances when outclassed by Conference rivals Ulster and Leinster two and three weeks ago, on scorelines of 40-15 and 32-19, although on home soil against Leinster they looked much more threatening, so this game could well prove to be one of the toughest tests faced by Munster in their campaign to date.
The Warriors have only secured one victory this season so far, with that being a comfortable home triumph over the Scarlets in Round 2. They are clearly not anywhere near as good a side as they were from 2015 to 2018 when they were really putting it up to Leinster and Munster on a regular basis, but they remain competitive on home soil.
It comes as no surprise to see the Scottish sides struggling while their main players are away on international duty. When you build an international side from two club sides and a few exiles then obviously those club sides are going to be severely depleted when the national side comes calling.
And with the current Covid climate seeing the end of the Six Nations championship almost overlapping with the newly created Autumn Nations Cup then the Warriors are just going to have to take this short term pain and do as best they can until they get their main players back next month.
Munster obviously are missing their own international players, but the squad depth is stronger at Thomond Park, and you also have the fact that Andy Farrell picks his Irish squad from three other sides, so the load gets shared around that bit more on this side of the Irish Sea.
The Autumn Nations Cup presents Munster with a real opportunity to take advantage of their superior squad strength and to really keep the foot to the floor while their opponents are not at their strongest. It is an easy argument to say that such clashes undermine the competition, but ultimately the Pro14 is Munster’s bread and butter and they must look to maximise every opportunity, much in the same way that Leinster do, week in, week out.
Number eight Gavin Coombes understandably grabbed all the headlines last weekend, with his hat-trick against the Ospreys putting him top of the Pro14 try-scoring chart for 24 whole hours until Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee’s four tries on Monday night against lowly Zebre pushed him back into second spot.
Young half-backs Craig Casey and Ben Healy continue to impress, with possibly Casey even more so given the manner in which he dictates the play and ensures that Munster play with so much speed, energy and tempo.
Healy has showed everyone what a great goal kicker he is and what a huge boot he has from hand, but he perhaps has yet to display that he can run a tight game or unlock watertight defences in a close tie.
The coming weeks could present him with this opportunity given that JJ Hanrahan had to limp off with what looked like a hamstring injury against the Ospreys. If this were to keep the Kerry out-half out for a few weeks then Johann van Graan has to keep faith with Healy and let him gain further experience in the Munster No 10 shirt.
Rory Scannell can provide an experienced option at ou-thalf if required, but Munster fans will be hoping to see if either Jack Crowley or Jake Flannery can have a similar impact to Healy, if given the opportunity at No. 10.