Munster ended a dozen barren years by claiming the BKT United Rugby Championship title with a superb victory in Cape Town as Graham Rowntree’s first season in charge ended in glory.
by John Fallon
John Hodnett’s try four minutes from time secured a fourth title for Munster and it was a thoroughly deserved success after dominating possession on a heavy pitch in front of 55,000 fans at DHL Stadium.
The several thousand Munster fans who made the long journey to South Africa had plenty of cause to be in full voice from the outset as the Reds got on top from the start and completed a remarkable sequence of results after being away from home for the closing six matches of the season.
And Munster did it despite losing captain Peter O’Mahony six minutes before the break to a head injury but the Cork man was on hand afterwards to collect his first silverware for Munster after a tense finish.
The reigning champions got a glorious start when out-half Manie Libbok intercepted a pass from Antoine Frisch to run in a try from deep after six minutes, which the Springbok converted for a 7-0 lead.
But Munster are used to dealing with adversity at the business end of this season and they did not panic. They got back in contention with a try off a lineout, when they got the drive after a take from Tadhg Beirne before hooker Diarmuid Barron got over. Jack Crowley was narrowly off target with the touchline conversion from the left.
Stormers lost No.8 Evan Roos to a yellow card after 19 minutes and Munster, who enjoyed 67% possession in the opening half, piled on the pressure.
Remarkably, they got over three times and on each occasion the score was scratched, with efforts from Gavin Coombes, Shane Daly and Mike Haley ruled out on review.
But they finally got over in the final phase with the extra man with a superbly weighted crosskick from Crowley bounced kindly for Calvin Nash to race in and score, with Crowley’s conversion making it 12-7 at the break.
Springbok RG Snyman came on to replace O’Mahony but it was the champions who got on top after the restart. Libbok missed a penalty before a superb tackle by full-back Mike Haley on his opposite number Damian Willemse ended a dangerous attack from Stormers.
Munster lost Haley to a yellow card shortly afterwards after he was adjudged to have fouled Angelo Davids, with Stormers scoring off a lineout shortly afterwards when Deon Fourie got over, with Libbok’s conversion making it 14-12 after 50 minutes.
Stormers, who lost their two-year unbeaten home record last month when Munster triumphed 26-23, enjoyed a lot of possession after that but superb defending ensured they did not score again.
And it was Munster who had the resolve in the closing stages to push on and claim their trophy when they piled on the pressure and a move which culminated in Craig Casey, Crowley, Haley and Shane Daly creating the opening was ended with Hodnett scoring in the left corner to edge Munster 17-14 in front.
Crowley then landed the difficult conversion from the left to ensure Stormers needed a try in the closing stages, but that never looked like materialising despite a couple of penalties to either corner with Munster, who lost Crowley to a late yellow card, securing the title when Beirne forced a superb turnover inside his own 22 to spark off great celebrations with the first silverware since 2011.
Munster: Mike Haley, Calvin Nash (Keith Earls 70), Antoine Frisch (Ben Healy 62), Malakai Fekitoa, Shane Daly, Jack Crowley, Conor Murray (Craig Casey 66), Jeremy Loughman (Josh Wycherley 62), Diarmuid Barron (Niall Scannell 62), Stephen Archer (Roman Salanoa 62), Jean Kleyn (Alex Kendellen 69), Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony (capt.) (RG Snyman 34), John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.
URC Grand Final Round-Up
Munster are the URC champions 🙂