UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
The Munster mash – Munster dethrone Stormers to win URC title in front of a record 56,334-strong crowd
The second iteration of the United Rugby Championship has cemented its place as an elite global rugby competition after a superb 2023 final saw Munster crowned winners.
A try four minutes from the end of a pulsating United Rugby Championship (URC) final by Munster flank John Hodnett secured a dramatic 19-14 win for the men from Limerick.
That score ensured Munster ended a 12-year trophy drought in the most thrilling of ways in a match where they should have been out of sight by halftime but ended up winning in the dying embers.
It broke hometown hearts in Cape Town and ended the Stormers reign as champions after they won the inaugural title in 2022. But no one could deny Munster deserved the title, based not only on their performance in the final, but due to their tenacity throughout the campaign.
It was Munster’s second win at the DHL Stadium in six weeks and they remain the only team to win in Cape Town in 18 months. They deserved their win especially as they had to do it the hard way, winning all three knockout games away from home.
They also lost skipper Peter O’Mahony to suspected concussion midway through the first half. No one can say they had it easy.
The Stormers by contrast, once again battled to get into the match and then made most of the running for almost the entire second half. But continuous errors and poor options never allowed the home side to completely break free despite taking a 14-12 lead with half an hour to go and holding it until four minutes from the end.
The match, and the result, is also a boost for the URC as Munster are one of the big names in the global club game and now have silverware to show for it. It also underlined the competitive, cosmopolitan nature of the tournament.
Munster will wonder how they only led by five points at the break after dominating almost every aspect of the game in the first half.
They had 70% possession and nearly as much territory and they made several clean breaks. They found space out wide and forced the Stormers into spending much of the half scrambling on defence.
They also had two tries disallowed – both legitimately for a double movement by No 8 Gavin Coombes and a forward pass from captain Peter O’Mahony to wing Mike Haley.
The visitors, playing their best 40 minutes of the campaign, and possibly their best 40 in years, sucked the energy from the 56,334-strong crowd with their swamping display.
By denying the Stormers any leeway, barring an early mistake, they took the crowd out of the game for the most part. Seldom have so many people been so silent, for such long periods.
Early on, Stormers flyhalf Manie Libbok did what he does best, sniping on to a loose pass from centre Antoine Frisch to intercept and score from 45 metres out. The stadium nearly shook on its foundations, but that was all the home crowd had to cheer.
Libbok had a mixed bag of a day, although no one touched the ball more than he did. But he was a constant threat mixing up contestable kicks and attacking running after the break when he finally started seeing more ball in the second half.
After Libbok’s early try, until close to halftime, Munster pounded the Stormers’ line. They found space on the edges, scrumhalf Conor Murray’s excellent contestable kicks were targeted with drone strike precision and the Stormers battled to cope.
Almost predictably, the visitors first try came from a rolling maul, following a penalty and a lineout. Hooker Diarmuid Barron dotted down to add to his collection against the Stormers, having scored twice in the same fashion in their previous encounter in Cape Town in April.
Evan Roos then earned a yellow card of a professional foul close to his line adding pressure to an already under pressure Stormers. But they managed the period by hook or by crook only to concede a try to Munster wing Calvin Nash on the half hour.
Nash ran on to a clever cross-field kick from impressive flyhalf Jack Crowley.
After being out of the game for much of the first half the Stormers finished the stanza strongly and had a series of penalties. They chose not to go for goal and kept using the lineout maul instead of accumulating points from the boot. They couldn’t find a way over the line and Munster hung on until the end of the half, which was the least they deserved.
The Stormers, though, dominated the third quarter, taking control of the aerial game and putting the visitors under pressure. It was almost a repeat of their previous clash but this time the Stormers did score when flank Deon Fourie dotted down from the back of a rolling maul.
They created several half chances and had their moments, but Munster would not be denied. They tackled and dug in as blue jerseys threatened to break their line, but they would not fold and, in the end, the Stormers ran out of ideas and hope. DM
Stormers – Tries: Manie Libbok, Deon Fourie. Conversions: Libbok (2).
Munster – Tries: Diarmuid Barron, Calvin Nash, John Hodnett. Conversions: Jack Crowley (2).