WE ALL want a free-running Guinness Pro12 final, don’t we?
The obvious question has to be asked because when both Glasgow Warriors and Munster pick themselves off the Ravenhill turf and one is declared the winner, so much of the narrative afterwards could be about the personnel missing from the showcase and either the heartbreak of another lost final, or possibly the sad ending to a glorious provincial career. So lets get out ahead of that right now.
The prevailing logic is that this contest should be as close and as brutal as a straight-razor shave on a park swing. But it needn’t be. Munster have a traditional style of play and a well-drilled maul. Fine. Glasgow have Rob Harley and Josh Strauss as their back-row bombers, making nuisances of themselves. Cool. Munster have no Peter O’Mahony or a metronomic Conor Murray. Alright. And Glasgow have for some reason excluded a fit and exciting Adam Ashe.
Enough already, let’s look at the positives (though some of them, admittedly, are positives for the neutrals).
There are superb ball carriers on show. Like a bottle of Absinthe emptied into the punch, Munster back-rower CJ Stander can take your legs away without you realising it. He is in devastating form and with Paddy Butler deputising there is a feeling that the pair could symbiotically carry as a pair, over every blade of grass. Mind you, if you need someone to make a rude, hard, one-metre dunt there is no one better in the business than Paul O’Connell – the man who could be calling time on his, er, time with Munster following this final.
Mind you, Glasgow could let Strauss truck it up in the middle of the park all day, with Jonny Gray doing a very decent O’Connell impersonation. Or, for the sake of our entertainment, lock Leone Nakarawa could be allowed to juggle and slide into contact, popping out squinty offloads that catch defenders off-guard and have you fumbling for the rewind button on your remote control.
The kicking should have an air of uncertainty about it. We all know Ian Keatley had a debilitating case of the yips in the semi-final against Ospreys, and no matter how much we get told about the “next job” mentality of modern rugby players, he will have needed a salve and a cuddle this week. But there is enough dinks and chips and chases in that Munster back-line to ensure that develment is there, should they opt for a slog-less display.
Opposite them, Finn Russell may be beaming after a fine conversion from the touchline that won Glasgow their semi against Ulster, but there are so many options for clearing lines that it can be confusing for those unaccustomed to the Warriors’ way. Pete Horne at 12 can slid in behind his 13, Richie Vernon, to dispatch a left-footed clearance from their own half. Stuart Hogg can put more metres between himself and the ball than you’re average long-distance relationship from tee or hand and Henry Pyrgos has a neat box-kick.
Then there is the referee. Do not forget the fact that Nigel Owens is in the middle. Flow and touch are so important to Owens, that while he does not get every single call right, we need not be sticklers about it. He has a feel for the game that should be allowed to grace major finals… perhaps not for the last time in 2015. The players should make the most of his whistling.
The only other thing that can help contribute to the positive emotion of the last game of the Pro12 final is the crowd itself. Here’s hoping that they are in good voice and get the display they deserve. The semi-finals were crackers and cheered on in the right way. We should really have more of the same, right?
Let’s have a go, fellas…
Kick-off: 6.30pm, Ravenhill
Glasgow Warriors: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Richie Vernon, Peter Horne, DTH van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Henry Pyrgos; Gordon Reid, Dougie Hall, Rossouw de Klerk, Leone Nakarawa, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson, Josh Strauss (Captain)
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Jon Welsh, Al Kellock, Chris Fusaro, Niko Matawalu, Duncan Weir, Sean Lamont
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Andrew Smith, Denis Hurley – capt., Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Dave Kilcoyne, Eusebio Guinazu, BJ Botha; Billy Holland, Paul O’Connell; Donnacha Ryan, Paddy Butler, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, Stephen Archer, Sean Dougall, Jack O’Donoghue, Cathal Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, Ronan O’Mahony.