“Munster Are Tough And We Are Battle-hardened” – Graham Rowntree


A record crowd of more than 47 000 saw the DHL Stormers comprehensively overcome Connacht but you can expect that figure to be swelled even further when Cape Town hosts what can only be described as a dream Vodacom United Rugby Championship final a fortnight from now.

After the Stormers completed their victory, their coach John Dobson wasn’t holding much hope of Munster giving his team a hand by beating Leinster at the Aviva Stadium to set up a home final. Everything he said at the post-match press conference came across as an acceptance that the semi-final had been his team’s last home game of the season.

However, three hours later the Stormers were celebrating in one of the stadium’s hospitality suites with a gusto that might just have been heard at the Aviva as Jack Crowley’s drop-goal with less than three minutes remaining clinched Munster an epic victory.

Last year’s final was also played in Cape Town, with the Stormers winning the inaugural URC title by beating their arch-rivals, the Vodacom Bulls. However, that crowd was limited to just 31 000 due to the Covid restrictions in place at the time which set a maximum attendance of 50% capacity.

This time there are no restrictions and tickets are sure to go quickly once they go on sale as not only have the past two Saturdays proved an enjoyable experience for Cape rugby fans, but the decider also just happens to pit the Stormers against the only team to have beaten them at home this season. Indeed, the only team to have beaten them since December 2021.

Ever since they surrendered their home unbeaten record to Munster in what was a pulsating and tight game that was a great advertisement for what the URC has to offer, the Stormers have spoken about how they’d love to set the record straight. Now they get their opportunity.

It will also be the third in what has been a sequence of farewells for the popular Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff, with each playoff game the Stormers have played so far being set up beforehand as their last appearance at home for the 2022/23 season. But this time it will definitely be the most capped Stormers player of all time’s farewell, for the 27 May game is the decider and the trophy will be on the line.

The Stormers had been impacted by a hectic travel schedule when the two teams squared up in mid-April so the Cape team will be confident. In fact, both teams should feel good as they have two weeks to prepare for the final as the tournament breaks for next weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals in Dublin.

One thing the Stormers will know for sure though is that Munster will come to Cape Town on a mission, and if there was any doubt, the Munster coach Graham Rowntree erased that with his post-match comments at the Aviva.

“We’re in a final, lads. I said to the group in the week that 25 days ago we were paranoid about European qualification (because of the log position), but then we got to a semi-final, and now we are in a final,” said the former England prop.

“Our game is still growing. We are finding out about people. Pete (O’Mahony) spoke really well in the dressing room about this not being our final tonight. We go to Cape Town with belief. This group won’t give in and we have come through some fires in the last few weeks. We go to Cape Town and it will be our sixth away game on the bounce, and that’s when we are finding out about people.

“We are tough and we are battle-hardened, so I was never feeling hopeless. This team won’t go away,” he added.

Munster does have an impressive away record and they have shown impressive resilience. After being thumped in the Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 tie by the Cell C Sharks, Munster returned to South Africa to play the Sharks again and the Stormers in their final two URC league matches and they ended their mini-tour unbeaten. The resolve and determination that Rowntree referred to was writ large when the Irish province came back from a 22-3 deficit against the Sharks to draw 22-all.

Subsequent to that they have won a quarterfinal in Glasgow and now an away semi against Leinster and with two weeks to prepare for the final and get to Cape Town, the final will be played on a relatively even playing field. The Stormers, since losing to Munster, have beaten Benetton in their final league game, the Bulls by 12 points in the quarter and Connacht by 18 in the semi.