DHL Stormers Relying On Irish Help For Home United Rugby Championship Final


The fears that South Africans may have had of Irish teams' domination of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship last four were confirmed when Munster continued their impressive away run with a tight quarterfinal win over Glasgow Warriors.

When Graham Rowntree’s ever-improving and growing team took advantage of a first-half red card to Glasgow at the Scotstoun it ensured that there will be three Irish teams in the semi-final phase. The only odd one out is the DHL Stormers, who are the remaining South African flag-bearers.

It is the outcome some Irish critics predicted, with one not altogether minor difference, the second favourites are now out of the competition after Ulster were beaten by a highly motivated Connacht at the Kingspan Stadium and as a result of that the Stormers have been presented with their second successive home semifinal.

There really wasn’t a lot to choose between the Stormers and Ulster in the regular season. They ended on the same number of log points, and in the end, it was a technicality that gave Ulster second ahead of the Stormers’ third and set up the possibility of both semifinals being in Ireland.

It was in effect the Stormers’ narrow loss at home to Munster when they conspired against themselves by being wasteful with opportunities, that cost them second place. So it was unsurprising that before this weekend, the Munster game was the one the Stormers kept referring to when they spoke of the need to get over the disappointment.

None of them said as much, but the Stormers appeared resigned to having to win the trophy they annexed at the end of the inaugural URC the hard way, or as their coach John Dobson put it, taking “the gravel road”, by having to travel overseas for the semifinal and then the final if they got that far.

Now, thanks to the unexpected help of the fourth-ranked Irish team, who the Stormers admitted they supported on Friday night with the same passion they would have had they been born in Galway, that road has been made much easier. And they also have reason to believe they might just get some more Irish help this weekend that could pave the way for another home final.

The Stormers now find themselves heading into a situation where provided they use their home advantage to get the better of Connacht in their Cape Town semi-final, they will be ardent supporters of the Munster team that was previously thought of as their nemesis when they clash with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

If the Connacht win in Belfast confirmed one thing it is that an Irish derby can be a leveller. The home-ground advantage is less of an advantage if the visiting team travels there from within their own country, and while Munster doesn’t have a good recent record against Leinster, there should be enough red shirts at the Aviva at the weekend to reduce any home ground advantage to the Dublin team.

Leinster have been in imperious form so it’s a long shot that they will start as strong favourites to clinch a home final, which would take place if it happens at the same venue they play their Heineken Challenge Cup decider against LaRochelle the previous week. But they are in the midst of what will have to become a high-pressure five-week sequence of knock-out games and they could probably have done without the extra intensity of the URC semifinal being against their arch-derby rivals who will bring that extra motivation into the game.

Munster’s win in Glasgow, although helped by that red card, completed an astounding turnaround for the Irish province, who made a disastrous start to Rowntree’s tenure as coach and were languishing near the bottom of the log heading to the halfway point of the regular season.

But subsequent to that they’ve shown that they could well have had a top-three finish had it not been for that initial adjustment period to the start of the Rowntree era. The way they turned around the big defeat they suffered to the Cell C Sharks in the HCC round of 16 clash, which came after a big home URC defeat to Glasgow, into wins in Cape Town and an important draw in Durban when they returned to South Africa confirmed just how difficult they are now to get the better of.

With RG Snyman confirming why they lured him to the province four years ago now that he has recovered from his injuries, and the team generally showing a refusal to die that was writ large when they recovered from a 19-point deficit to draw at Hollywoodbets Kings Park a fortnight ago, Munster shouldn’t be easy pickings for Leinster.

And if they win, then the Grand Final could well be on South African shores again, and at the same DHL Stadium venue where the Stormers claimed the inaugural URC trophy by beating the Bulls in the decider.

First, though the Stormers have to get past a Connacht team they supported so intensely, skipper Steven Kitshoff will be at Ulster next season yet he admitted he “cheered everything Connacht did”, in a semifinal that Dobson admitted could be difficult. At least though they now have the home-ground advantage, which was secured with a bit of help from their Irish friends who now become enemies, and a home final depends on Irish enemies who this weekend will become friends.

Certainly given what a classic their league clash was a few weeks back at the same venue, a Stormers/Munster final would draw numbers to the DHL Stadium similar to the more than 44 000 crowd that watched the Stormers beat the Bulls.

Vodacom United Rugby Championship semi-finals (both Saturday 13 May)

DHL Stormers v Connacht (DHL Stadium, Cape Town, 16.00)
Leinster v Munster (Aviva Stadium, Dublin, 18.30)