Stormers v Munster: Five storylines to follow including heated exchanges in a fiery URC final

Jared Wright
united rugby championship urc final stormers munster

Ahead of this season’s United Rugby Championship (URC) final between the Stormers and Munster, we pick out five storylines to follow in Cape Town on Saturday.

Making Cape Town smile

Stormers boss John Dobson is on a mission to build a dynasty centred around the goal of ‘making Cape Town smile’, and so far, they have been incredibly successful.

Few will have given the Stormers a chance of making the URC play-offs at the start of last season, and now they have the opportunity to claim back-to-back titles. It is an incredible achievement from a side that is still under administration.

The move from the iconic Newlands to their new home, the DHL Stadium, has proved successful, with 55,000 tickets selling out within a few hours of their release.

The Stormers have always attracted fans to their games, but recent crowds seemingly trump those of the Super Rugby heydays. Successful teams will always draw in the masses, but the Stormers’ style of play under Dobson has gone a long way in putting bums in seats.

Cape Town is buzzing to host another URC final, as they should be, with the home side losing just once at the stadium this season. However, the side that they are yet to beat and the one that broke their streak arrives to spoil the party.

Munster have been the villains of the URC this season, denying the Sharks a spot in the Champions Cup next season, ending the Stormers’ streak at home, handing Glasgow their first home defeat of the season in the quarters and ending Leinster’s campaign with a match-winning drop goal. Having come this far, they will be out to take the spoils one final time.

Home-ground advantage certainly plays a role in the final, but that has mattered little to Munster, making for another mouth-watering finale.

Munster’s turnaround under Rowntree

It’s hard not to look back at Munster’s start to the season as they prepare for the final. In his first-ever season as a head coach, Graham Rowntree endured a testing start, losing five of his opening eight games in charge.

They would lose just twice more and draw once in their next 10 fixtures as they sealed passage into the tournament play-offs.

Much like the Stormers, Munster have returned to their roots in terms of the approach to the game with an abrasive edge and a never-say-die attitude. Their route to the final was never going to be easy, playing all of their games away from home, but they muscled up defensively in the win over Glasgow before putting it all on the line with a match-winning drop goal against Leinster.

You can never accuse a Munster side of lacking passion, but they have seemingly ramped it up a few notches in their last five games, and we can expect more of that, especially with a title on the line and club great Keith Earls nearing the end of his career.

There will be plenty of belief in the Munster camp that they can get the job done in Cape Town, having never lost against the hosts, but regardless of the result on Saturday; their journey to the final and turning their season around must be lauded.

Returning stars 

Both teams have issued positive injury updates before the showpiece event, creating even more hype for the final.

The Stormers dispatched Connacht 43-25 in their semi-final without the services of Springboks Marvin Orie and Deon Fourie. Both players are set to return in the starting line-up for the hosts in a significant boost in two areas of the game that Munster is notably strong in, the lineout and breakdown.

The Irish province had a host of players sustain injuries in the build-up and during the play-offs, who are all now making timely returns. Lock Jean Kleyn and fly-half Ben Healy both sustained heads knocks against Leinster and are set to recover in time to face the Stormers. Meanwhile, centre Malakai Fekitoa, scrum-half Conor Murray, wing Calvin Nash and lock RG Snyman all missed the semi-final but are all in contention to be selected.

Both outfits are at full strength, or near to it, adding more fuel to the already fiery final.

Expect heated exchanges

Tempers flared when these two sides faced off in April, and best you believe that Saturday’s final will be no different.

It took just 18 minutes for the first mass scuffle sparked by Stormers hooker Joseph Dweba and Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, and it just blew up from there.

That set the tone for the match, with the physicality and aggression in the tackles and carries going up another level from that point onward.

This time around, Dweba may rile up the Munster players before the first whistle has even been blown. A video of the Stormers celebrating Munster’s win over Leinster surfaced shortly after the match a fortnight ago. While one can rightfully assume they were celebrating the fact they were hosting another final, Dweba screamed, ‘We are going f**k them up’ into the camera.

The art of sledging and fighting talk is not lost on O’Mahony, who will be eager to get stuck in now that the battle lines have been drawn.

There is also no need for additional source material as Rowntree looks to inspire his charges; the Stormers have taken care of that for him.

Back-to-back and have Munster already played their final? 

If Dobson is to build his dynasty, then Saturday’s URC final provides him with the perfect opportunity to pour the cement after laying the foundation slab last season – another home final and an opportunity to add the rich legacy of Western Province and Stormers rugby.

Having retained largely the same playing group and developing players throughout the season, they are arguably better placed this season than last to lift the title, but now that the expectations have been raised, can they deliver?

As for the visitors, the break between the semi-finals and finals means the impact of travel is less harsh, but their run into their last game of the season has been taxing.

It’s the second time in less than two months that they are making the trip to the Republic, and they have played all their games away from home in that time.

There is always a risk that you may play your final a week, or in this case two weeks, early and after two play-off matches going down to the wire, will Munster still have enough left in the tank?

READ MORE: THROWBACK: The drama of the inaugural URC Grand Final in Cape Town