Munster’s Road To The URC Final
18th May 2023 By The Editor
A Munster season full of ups and downs comes to a close with the URC Grand Final on Saturday, May 27, against defending champions Stormers in Cape Town (5.30pm Irish time/6.30pm local).
Munster have hit form at the right time of the season with the final set to be the side’s sixth away game in a row.
Four of those five away games were in the URC with the province winning three and drawing one to clinch a place in the final.
The wins over Stormers, Glasgow Warriors and Leinster were the first home losses for all three teams this season.
In 20 URC games this season, Munster have won 12, drawn one and lost seven. The province finished fifth in the URC regular season but have beaten each of the top four away from home (Ulster and Stormers in the regular season, Glasgow and Leinster in the knock-outs).
Under Head Coach Graham Rowntree and the new coaching team, the season took time to get going and it was a tough start to the campaign.
Two away defeats in Wales to Cardiff and Dragons made it a difficult start. Munster had led both games going into the final quarter but were deservedly beaten with only losing bonus-points to show for their efforts.
The first victory arrived in round three at Musgrave Park with the hosts beating Zebre 21-5 but strong defence from the Italians limited Munster to three tries and no bonus-point.
It was a step in the right direction and Munster’s first win of the season.
10 Munster players had been unavailable for the Dragons and Zebre games after being called into the Emerging Ireland squad for their tour to South Africa and the last game they missed was another important one – the first Interpro of the campaign away to Connacht.
Four Academy players were in action for Munster at the Sportsground as the hosts took a deserved victory despite Munster leading at the interval. The 20-11 result meant no match points for Munster for the first time in the season.
The precious first bonus-point win of the campaign arrived in mid-October as Munster scored four converted tries to defeat last season’s losing finalists Bulls.
It was the first Thomond Park game of the campaign and was played in atrocious weather conditions with the Munster support in full voice.
The next game was away to Leinster at the Aviva Stadium and Munster led going into the final half-hour but a strong finish from the hosts gave them the spoils, 27-13.
A first home defeat of the season followed with Ulster winning at Thomond Park for the first time in eight years. Jack Crowley’s 67th minute touchline conversion struck the post as Ulster claimed a 15-14 victory.
After a morale-boosting win over South Africa A at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it was back to URC Interpro action against Connacht at the end of November.
There was big pressure on the game with two wins in the opening seven games leaving Munster towards the bottom of the URC.
A vital bonus-point win was secured with the 24-17 victory getting the province off to the perfect start for a season-defining 10-game block of fixtures.
Munster were really motoring after a 38-17 win away to Edinburgh but, following a defeat to Toulouse and win over Northampton in the Champions Cup, a 20-19 loss at home to Leinster stalled our URC momentum on Stephen’s Day.
Ben Healy’s last-gasp converted try secured a massive win away to Ulster on New Year’s Day before Liam Coombes scored a late bonus-point try to secure a five-point haul against Lions in Cork.
A win at home to Northampton and defeat in Toulouse was enough to secure a place in the Champions Cup knock-outs before another massive URC win on the road at the end of January.
A 40-30 victory over Benetton, with nine Munster players away on international duty, put the province firmly in the mix for the play-offs with five rounds to play.
Munster brushed past Ospreys 58-3 in the only February fixture before another bonus-point victory over Scarlets in Cork.
It had been a difficult week in the lead-up to Scarlets after the sudden passing of Tom Tierney, who was working at the HPC as a National Talent Coach and mentored a number of the province’s young players. After a stunning opening 50 minutes, the team flagged in the final quarter but held on for another win, 49-42.
A place in the top four now looked possible but a home defeat to Glasgow Warriors at the end of March piled the pressure on for a place in the URC play-offs and Champions Cup qualification.
Glasgow were full value for the 38-26 win after a poor Munster performance that saw the Scottish side lead 31-0 at one point.
The season took another turn for the worse when Sharks blew Munster away in the third quarter of their Champions Cup round of 16 clash in the Durban heat with a 50-35 loss ending our Champions Cup campaign.
After returning for a week at home, Munster were back on the road to South Africa in mid-April for a pivotal double-header against Stormers and Sharks.
Unbeaten at DHL Stadium all season, Stormers looked odds on to win and strengthen their grip on second place but a brilliant Munster performance clinched a hugely important bonus-point victory.
We only needed a draw against Sharks to ensure a fifth-place finish in the final round and a super second-half comeback was enough for a 22-22 draw.
That set up an away quarter-final against Glasgow Warriors, who had also been unbeaten at home all season.
Munster rose to the occasion and took advantage of a red card for Glasgow to win a bruising encounter 14-5 as Malakai Fekitoa and Antoine Frisch both touched down.
Leinster, another team with an unblemished home record, awaited in the semi-final at the Aviva Stadium and an outstanding display saw Munster march on to the final as Jack Crowley kicked a late drop-goal to secure a place in the Grand Final.