Last hurrah for Stormers captain Kitshoff as Munster stand in the way of back-to-back URC success

Last hurrah for Stormers captain Kitshoff as Munster stand in the way of back-to-back URC success
Steven Kitshoff of Stormers during the United Rugby Championship match between DHL Stormers and Munster at DHL Stadium on 15 April 2023 in Cape Town. (Photo: Carl Fourie / Gallo Images)

Steven Kitshoff has had the longest Cape Town farewell imaginable. But Saturday’s United Rugby Championship final at DHL Stadium is really it. And the crowd will be behind him.

Everyone thought the quarter-final against the Bulls would be captain Steven Kitshoff’s last home match. But after two “bonus” home games for the side that finished third in the standings, the Stormers have a chance to retain the title they won 12 months ago, this time against Ireland’s Munster.

Kitshoff will play his last match for the Stormers, before heading to take up a contract with Ulster. It is a fitting end to a chapter that started when he was a teenager at the union. He needed to be specially tested to prove he was strong enough to play prop at Super Rugby level, while so young.

That is the one position that has an age restriction in professional rugby in South Africa because of the inherent dangers of neck and back injuries.

Passed those teen tests easily

Naturally, like most things he’s done on the rugby field, Kitshoff passed those tests easily. And now, 12 years on and with more than 200 first-class games later, Kitshoff could say goodbye with a URC title.

“I’ve been playing for the Stormers since 2011 and I can’t remember a bigger game for us in that time, it is definitely one of the biggest,” said Kitshoff.

“There has been such a focus on rugby in this city over the past week; every time you turn on the radio it feels like this game is being talked about, the wives of the players were on the radio yesterday.

“So there is a lot of expectation. 

“I can’t talk on behalf of Munster, but this is an opportunity for them, and I am sure it is very big for them too. I wouldn’t really be able to say who is under the greater pressure going into the game. I’d say it is about 50/50.

“The guys understand the occasion and what is needed. I think of the 23 players doing duty for us in this game, 80% of them were part of it last year. There was also big pressure on us in the games against the Bulls and Connacht that got us to the final. And we handled it, so I don’t think this will be any different for us than that and the guys are ready for it.”

Stormers Connacht

Deon Fourie returns after missing the semi-final for his first game against Munster, having also missed last month’s encounter. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Munster monsters

Munster however, has not won a trophy for 12 years, and see the clash against the Stormers as an ideal opportunity to rectify that statistic. The team did, after all, win in Cape Town six weeks ago. There will be no sympathy towards Kitshoff.

Perhaps the biggest shock from a South African perspective is that lock RG Snyman, who is set to be named in a 33-man Springbok training squad after the final, will only start on the bench.

Former Stormers lock Jean Kleyn is preferred alongside Ireland international Tadgh Beirne. Kleyn and Snyman put the Stormers lineout under pressure in their previous meeting last month, with the pair winning four Stormers throws. Munster also scored two tries from rolling mauls in the match.

Beirne is an imposing lineout presence himself, and with Snyman to come off the bench, the Stormers’ set piece is going to be under severe pressure all match. Hooker Joseph Dweba and his jumpers will certainly have to be at the top of their game.

To that end, the return of Marvin Orie from injury after missing the semi-final against Connacht, is a boost for the Stormers. The Bok is the Stormers’ lineout manager, and in tandem with the impressive Ruben van Heerden, the partnership is developing well.

The battle for the ball 

Perhaps the most significant hot zone will be in the battle for the ball on the ground. Deon Fourie’s return after missing the semi-final for his first game against Munster, having also missed last month’s encounter, will make that contest more interesting.

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is a disruptor at the breakdown, while No 8 Gavin Coombes is an accurate poacher with a natural intuition when it comes to choosing which balls to contest and which to back away from.

Stormers coach John Dobson must have mulled for a long time about whether to start abrasive flank Ben-Jason Dixon ahead of Hacjivah Dayimani, simply because it might not be a contest suited to the latter’s wonderful attacking skills.

Dayimani brings so much to the attack with his pace, superb handling and excellent understanding of space, while Dixon would add more to the breakdown.

But considering how the Stormers have played all season, it’s logical that Dobson has remained consistent in this selection.

Peter O’Mahoney of Munster will be a force to be reckoned with at the breakdown. (Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Dobson on the selection

“I feel like we had a good, normal week, and I haven’t felt like there have been too many distractions. Our plans for the game are good,” Dobson said in his pre-match media briefing.

“The tough one is that we have this mission, which I have talked enough about in the last while, and this vision with what we want to do with rugby in Cape Town.

“To a large degree, we have already achieved that. I’m trying to understand that logic: whatever happens tomorrow, we have done our job and achieved what we set out to at the start of the season.

“When we wrote our goal list, it wasn’t to retain the URC trophy. But that’s a lot easier said in practice. The truth is, we are desperate to win tomorrow. It would feel like a hollow achievement of goals if we didn’t, so that cold logic has given way to quite high levels of emotion, anxiety and enthusiasm.”

RG Snyman of Munster during the URC match between DHL Stormers and Munster on 15 April 2023 in Cape Town. (Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images)

Libbok marked

Munster have marked Stormers flyhalf Manie Libbok as the major threat and they will certainly have plans to take time and space away from the silky pivot.

Libbok helped himself to 23 points, including two tries in the semi-final, and was instrumental in the Stormers’ other four tries they scored. He’s simply a game-breaker.

“He (Libbok) is the type of player that we have to try and take time and space away from him,” Munster assistant coach Denis Leamy said.

“His ability to put the ball on a low trajectory and put it through the air really quickly is great. That’s really special. He is a very special player, is Libbok.”

“We will go back to our fundamentals and framework in terms of how we want to control the speed of the ball and how we nullify him a little bit in terms of how we defend together. It’s a huge task.” DM


Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Angelo Davids, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain)

Reserves: 16 JJ Kotze, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Ben-Jason Dixon, 20 Willie Engelbrecht, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Clayton Blommetjies

Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Diarmuid Barron, 1 Jeremy Loughman.

Reserves: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Roman Salanoa, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Alex Kendellen, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Keith Earls.


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