Stormers take confidence from doing homework as they prepare for resurgent Munster in URC final
John Dobson’s men and Munster meet in the 2023 United Rugby Championship final in Cape Town this weekend and both squads are back to full strength.
As the old sporting cliché goes, “it’s about controlling the controllables”, and the Stormers are taking that to heart as they prepare to face Munster in the United Rugby Championship (UFC) final.
DHL Stadium in Green Point is sold out — 55,000 tickets were snapped up in less than three hours when they went on sale last week. The Stormers will have fervent support and there will be no shortage of atmosphere even though the weather forecast is for rain and wind as a cold front sweeps through the Mother City.
They can’t control nature, but through their performance they can bring the crowd into the match. Their deeds on the field will go a long way to orchestrating the mood of the “Faithful” as players call the thousands who have made Green Point a modern, wonderful and successful new home.
They can also control their performance to a large degree, although Munster will obviously ensure that even the best laid plans will need adjustment and improvisation at times.
Mentally though, and through their pre-match preparation, everything is in their control until the moment referee Andrea Piardi’s whistle blows. Then it becomes about percentages; about controlling what you can in the heat of battle where an opponent is trying to disrupt your best-laid plans.
It was strange to hear the brooding strong man of the pack, Frans Malherbe talk about controlling emotions. He never outwardly displays any sign of nerves.
It’s hard to recall Malherbe being involved in an altercation, whether verbally or physically. He just goes about the business of making life hell for opposing looseheads, reshaping scrums with his meaty frame, making big tackles and cleaning rucks as if it were as simple and natural as breathing.
But underneath the quiet exterior is a man who gains his serenity from preparation. Doing his homework lowers blood pressure and heart rate. To use the Bok mantra, which Malherbe clearly does, “know your job; do your job.” And doing homework allows him to stay calm and operate at a high level.
“The emotion will definitely build until Saturday,” an outwardly unemotional Malherbe told the media.
“It’s a given and unarguable, but experience helps to calm me and focus on the plans. It may sound like a cliché, but indeed helps to calm me.
“If you’re 100 per cent sure of your plans, it gives you peace of mind and confidence towards the end of the week when the emotions pick up predictably.”
Scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies also spoke of doing the work beforehand to build confidence. But he also hinted that his desire to do the prep work was also driven by the potential fear of regret.
“There’s no Monday for us, so we can’t come back and say maybe we should have done this, we could have done that,” Jantjies said.
“This is it, that’s why it’s called the final, it’s a big one, we have one chance, so it’s a big game, and the focus is obviously to get it right.”
One thing the Stormers might regret is the brief circulation of a video posted a few hours after they had beaten Connacht to qualify for the big game that will certainly rile Munster up.
As Stormers players celebrated while watching Munster beat Leinster in the URC semi-final, to confirm a home final for the South African side, hooker Joseph Dweba took it a little too far.
He was shown screaming “we’re gonna f… them up,” into the camera. It was an over-the-top reaction, admittedly done in what was supposed to be a safe space for players and their partners. The recording has since been deleted but the message hasn’t been forgotten.
Stormers forward’s coach Rito Hlungwani played down the incident but made no apologies for it.
“Joseph has got a bit of a mouth on him but he’s one guy who usually backs up his words,” Hlungwani said.
“It wasn’t something that was meant to go out to the public, so it’s not necessarily his fault. It’s not something I’ve really had a long chat to him about.
“We respect Munster, and they’re probably the only team that we haven’t beaten in the URC. They’re coming here with a strong team, so it’s a team we respect highly.”
The sides have met twice previously in the URC and the Stormers have lost both. The first time was at Thomond Park in Limerick in October 2021 with the Stormers going down 34-18. That is ancient history by modern standards.
The second defeat is much more recent and has a far greater subplot to this game. Last month Munster beat the Stormers 26-24 at the DHL Stadium to inflict a first home defeat on John Dobson’s men in 16 months and 21 games.
At the time it was a hammer blow for the Stormers because as the penultimate game of the group phase, it virtually ensured the Stormers could finish no higher than third on the standings. That was indeed the case as Ulster secured second place the following week.
It almost certainly meant an away semi-final and final if the Stormers progressed, but in a strange twist of fate, Connacht beat Ulster in the quarters and then Munster beat the higher-ranked Leinster in the semis. The Stormers were suddenly the highest-ranked team left standing.
It’s an advantage for the Stormers no doubt, but Munster have arrived with a fully fit squad, including Springbok lock RG Snyman, as they look to end a 12-year trophy drought.
The Stormers also have a fully fit squad with Hlungwani confirming that both flank Deon Fourie and lock Marvin Orie were training and available for selection after missing the semi-final.
Munster arrived on Tuesday with confidence and form, having won their last four games, all away from home in the URC, and boosted by the return from injury of scrumhalf Conor Murray, Snyman, centre Malakai Fekitoaand wing Calvin Nash.
“It brings a boost to the squad. You see the energy that Munster have got in the last few weeks from beating the Stormers in Cape Town and then going to Dublin and beating Leinster,” former Munster and Ireland flank CJ Stander told the media this week.
“It’s going to be a cracking final, I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, it will be a bit wet then Munster will have the upper hand.
“Munster need this. Not just for the team, but in general, for Cork, Limerick, the Munster province in general. Just to get that belief back that all that hard work over the last eight or nine years hasn’t been for nothing.
“It’s still going to be a tough game. Watching the Connacht (semi-final) game, the Stormers know the way they want to play. They play from anywhere and they are very good at it.
“They scored two tries that looked like nothing was on, so Munster need to be ready for that from the start.” DM