UNITED RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
Thousands of Munster fans revel in Cape Town experience and leave with happy memories
Munster supporters left Cape Town with a thrilling 19-14 victory as well as a 'once-in-a-lifetime experience' in the Mother City.
Among a sea of 56,334 mostly blue-clad Stormers supporters, sporadic sections of DHL Stadium were covered in the cherry-red of Munster.
Even though the small Irish contingent was outnumbered by the thousand, they enjoyed a thrilling 19-14 victory in the United Rugby Championship final (URC) in the Mother City.
With a two-week gap between the semifinal and final, it provided Munster supporters ample time to prepare their passports for the flight of more than 16 hours.
And prepare they did as around 5,000 Munster fans spent their time soaking in an incredible away URC win as well as enjoying the scenic city in the preceding week.
“I’ve enjoyed the view of Table Mountain and the stadium,” said 10-year-old Joshua Desmond who travelled to South Africa for the first time with his family for the URC final.
“I’m not really a big fan of Munster. My club is Leinster, I support them but I’m supporting Munster today because I wasn’t going to support the Stormers,” said the youngster whose favourite player is Ireland and Leinster captain Johnny Sexton, while dad Jeremy Desmond tried to convince him to cheer for Munster skipper Peter O’Mahony.
Cape Town and the DHL Stadium also provided an opportunity for Irish expats living in South Africa to witness their home team play in their adopted home through Munster’s incredible run of results leading up to the URC final – winning all their URC knockout matches away from home.
“We live in Durban, but my family is from Ireland,” said Pat McGrath, who made the trip down to Cape Town with his wife Glynis.
“When we first moved here I thought I’d never see Munster play live again and all of a sudden the URC came along and the South African teams joined in – it was the happiest day of my life apart from marrying my wife who is here beside me.
“Now we get to see Munster every year and now we get to see them in a final over here.”
Munster’s road to the final included losing five of their first six matches this URC campaign.
“Early on in the season we never thought this day would come but we’ve really shown determination towards the end of the season,” added McGrath, who retired in South Africa six years ago.
A sense of hope
YoungstaCPT was the opening act before the DHL dancers, along with a team of male dancers clad in Stormers garb, did their pre-match dance.
Stormers flags drowned out the stadium as the first whistle from Italian referee Andrea Piardi approached while on the field, former Munster eighth man CJ Stander and former Stormers captain Jean de Villiers brought out the URC trophy hand-in-hand.
A first 40 minutes of pragmatic yet effective Munster rugby saw the halftime score stand at 12-7 to the visitors as their fans began to believe.
“It is absolutely amazing. The atmosphere is amazing, the people are amazing. Everyone is so friendly. The friendly exchanges between the Stormers and the Munster supporters is really positive and uplifting. I can’t say anything against it. It’s fantastic,” said Munster supporter Dave Moloney at halftime of the URC final.
“I arrived with my 11-year-old son on Friday morning. We went up Table Mountain today which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My son will be 12 in December and he’s been up Table Mountain. I’m 60 and it was my first time there.
“Everything’s been amazing and the people are so nice here.”
Final whistle celebrations
The jubilation in the crowd for the opening try by Stormers flyhalf Manie Libbok – within the first 10 minutes – could probably be heard in every corner of Cape Town.
While conversely, there was a deathly silence when Munster crossed the whitewash for their match-winning try by flank John Hodnett in the dying minutes – with the Munster bench at the dugout providing the loudest applause across Cape Town Stadium.
“It’s a huge win for Munster, we’re delighted to have come out here. We’ve had fantastic support,” said Tommy Barrett who was part of the scattered Munster support at the DHL Stadium.
“It’s been hard fought for the team, they were fantastic all year. They really dug deep, they were underdogs in all scenarios. The Munster spirit really shone through.
“[The crowd] was fantastic, obviously we were down in numbers but the Munster crowd really pushed through.”
Despite the jeers whenever Munster flyhalf Jack Crowley attempted a shot at goal, the camaraderie between home and away fans stuck even after the Stormers’ final loss.
“I must say, the home crowd were incredible, super respectful before, during and even after the game. They were really welcoming, it’s been nothing but pleasurable to be here,” added Barrett.
“The game was an emotional roller-coaster and the ending was just sensational. Jack Crowley coming up at the end with that kick – what a player! Pushing forward, he has a fantastic career ahead of him. I’m sure we’ll see him in the red jersey [of Munster] and the green jersey [of Ireland] a lot more in the future.”
While the result wasn’t favourable for the home Stormers crowd, as an international attraction, DHL Stadium and Cape Town once again proved that it is world class. DM