Following a 19-14 victory for Munster over the Stormers in the United Rugby Championship (URC) final, here’s our five takeaways from Saturday’s game.
Munster’s road trip ends in glory
Since April 1 Munster have played four games in South Africa which involved flying to the country on three separate occasions, faced an in-form Glasgow in the quarter-finals, then went to Dublin to take on Leinster in the semi-finals before it was back on a plane to Cape Town to tackle the reigning champion Stormers.
No one, and we stress no one, can say they have done this the easy way as to continue to win away has been staggering. The odds of probability when it comes to knockout games consistently show that visiting teams do struggle, but this Munster side have been alien to that as, if anything, they’ve got stronger each week.
To back it up for each win-or-bust match has been breathtaking and it’s become something of a tour mentality for the squad, getting to know their team-mates on and off the field in a way that isn’t always possible in northern hemisphere club rugby. It’s paid off in droves as one last trip home now won’t seem so taxing.
Late calmness evident once again
We saw it in the URC semi-final victory over Leinster how Munster kept their composure amid the mayhem to work their way from near their own try-line to within drop-goal territory late in that match. Once again that calm mindset was evident in Saturday’s final as an incredible team try was nailed with minutes to play.
The quote “calm in chaos” was used by second-row Jean Kleyn in the build-up to this final and Munster certainly lived up to that mantra, scoring an outstanding try on 75 minutes that finally broke the Stormers‘ rearguard thanks to incredibly smart option taking. To make those decisions with such clarity was admirable.
Indeed, Munster head coach Graham Rowntree has regularly spoken of his side’s fitness being one of their strengths, but to execute so late again and with such accuracy shows more than just fitness. There’s noticeable confidence in their option taking which, for a side so young in its journey, is even more impressive.
— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) May 27, 2023
Stormers video did not age well
We’ve gone there as it’s hard to ignore it. The scenes on May 13 of the Stormers squad and their families celebrating Munster’s win over Leinster that included Joseph Dweba’s choice language have not aged well at all. Yes, the delight was probably to do with having a home final but it just wasn’t a good look, was it?
The club immediately regretted the video going public, but such is the social media world we live in that it was inevitable. While Munster stressed it did not impact on their preparations or ‘do their teamtalk for them’, one can bet it added extra fire in the belly of many players which would only benefit their game.
Bold calls pay off for Munster
Rowntree has made many gutsy selection decisions this season and few, if any, can be disputed. Giving youth a chance has certainly paid off and appears to have rejuvenated some of the senior players, as Munster have consequently developed a team that has a perfect balance of said players, who have blended beautifully.
Players like Craig Casey, Paddy Patterson, Jack Crowley and Ben Healy in the half-backs, as well as Shane Daly and Calvin Nash on the wings, have grabbed their opportunities whilst up front the likes of Roman Salanoa, Diarmuid Barron and John Hodnett are improving with each fixture, the latter pair proving that today.
Of the senior players it’s been an outstanding finish to the season from Stephen Archer and Conor Murray, while Keith Earls returned from injury with big-game performances. Led by the talismanic Peter O’Mahony, Tadhg Beirne and Kleyn, Rowntree has pushed every man to their peak, which is an incredible coaching feat.
Unreal achievement by Graham Rowntree to win the URC in his first season as a head coach.
Will put my hand up, I didn't think Munster had a trophy in them this season but they have done this the hard way, on the road for weeks.
An utterly different side to a year ago. Huge.
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) May 27, 2023
It’s just the start of something
Where to now after this? After celebrating the title with the thousands of supporters that made the journey to Cape Town, Munster will no doubt de-brief before enjoying a well-earned break with their families. They have certainly earned that rest but for some players international recognition could now come their way.
Due to this year’s Rugby World Cup, next season begins much later on October 20-22 which offers every club coach significant time to prepare. What’s vital for Munster this pre-season is the building blocks and belief in the process are now firmly in place as they look to kick on and make 2023/24 even more successful.
For Rowntree and his staff to achieve what they have in one season is staggering but there is certainly more to come from this squad, despite the outgoings of Malakai Fekitoa and Healy. Alex Nankivell is a shrewd acquisition at centre and with the likes of Crowley and others a year older, the future looks bright.