PREVIEW: ‘This is what you play for.’
That is how Munster captain Peter O’Mahony summed up his team’s trip to the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, for a face-off with the Stormers in the 2023 United Rugby Championship Final.
It is indeed a tectonic occasion – as the Stormers are aiming for back-to-back URC titles, while Munster is looking to end a decade-long drought in a competition previously known as the Celtic Cup, Pro12 and Pro14.
The only other side to have successfully defended the title was Leinster (2013 & 2014 and 2018-21).
Munster is through to their ninth URC/Pro12/14 Grand Final.
The Irish province has lifted the title on three occasions, the last coming in 2011, but have been beaten in their last three finals.
It will be a battle of wills in a game of contrasting styles – Munster openly punting their structured approach against the Stormers’ method of method.
Munster defence coach Denis Leamy stated the obvious when he said beating the Stormers in Cape Town is a ‘tough ask’.
How to beat the Stormers – from 6:15 to 7:27
However, they will revert to type – remain calm and retain possession for long periods to put the home team’s defence under pressure.
“We don’t want to be creating fractured play or transition play,” Leamy said about the Stormers’ ability to turn those opportunities into points when the game becomes ‘unstructured’.
“Trying to control that through keeping possession is important,” he said, adding: “Our kicking game will be important and our speed across the pitch on the transitions to get in place is key.”
He said Munster’s ability to remain calm and control the game will be vital.
“With players like [Damian] Willemse, [Manie] Libbok, [Herschel] Jantjies and [Evan] Roos, they have so much ability across the team.
“They are a team we’ve admired for a while and have watched them in many games.
“The brand of rugby they play is very exciting.
“It is a great challenge for us.
“How we implement our game plan and how we control the speed of ball, the time on the tackle are the things we discuss.”
(Article continues below Denis Leamy interview …)
Stormers Steven Kitshoff spoke of the need for his team top get out the blocks fast, especially given the state of the pitch and the damp conditions after a couple of days of heavy rain during the week.
“It is almost impossible to play catch-up rugby,” Kitshoff said in his traditional Friday media briefing.
“If you go down a couple of points in the beginning you will have a fight on your hands to get those points back.”
In their most recent encounter – back on April 15, also in Cape Town – the Irish province raced into a 12-0 lead inside the first quarter.
Despite working their way back into the game and levelling up go 12-all at the half-time break, Munster scored first after the break and left the Stormers with a mountain to climb.
Munster ultimately won 26-24.
Kitshoff pointed out that in the quarterfinal against the Bulls and semifinal against Connacht, they got off to good starts and maintained their momentum.
“There was lots of intensity and that is something we will look at.
“We have to ensure the momentum remains in our favour.”
He added that they simply can’t allow Munster to get the momentum they did last time out.
“We had a real deep dive into their DNA and the way they play,” Kitshoff said about last month’s loss.
“You can’t allow Munster to get their tails up, allow them to score early.
“We worked hard to fix our mistakes.
“We must start with intensity and get on the front foot early in the game.”
Head to head
Road to the Final
Round One: Sharks 19-46 Stormers
Round Two: Stormers 38-15 Connacht
Round Three: Stormers 34-18 Edinburgh
Round Four: Zebre Parma 20-37 Stormers
Round Five: Ospreys 16-16 Stormers
Round Six: Cardiff 30-24 Stormers
Round Seven: Lions 22-31 Stormers
Round Eight: Stormers 36-19 Scarlets
Round Nine: Stormers 34-26 Dragons
Round 10: Stormers 37-27 Bulls
Round 11: Stormers 40-8 Lions
Round 12: Glasgow 24-17 Stormers
Round 13: Ulster 35-5 Stormers
Round 14: Bulls 19-23 Stormers
Round 15: Stormers 29-23 Sharks
Round 16: Leinster 22-22 Stormers
Round 17: Stormers 24-26 Munster
Round 18: Stormers 38-22 Benetton
Quarterfinal: Stormers 33-21 Bulls
Semifinal: Stormers 43-25 Connacht
Round One: Cardiff 20-13 Munster
Round Two: Dragons 23-17 Munster
Round Three: Munster 21-5 Zebre Parma
Round Four: Connacht 20-11 Munster
Round Five: Munster 31-17 Bulls
Round Six: Leinster 27-13 Munster
Round Seven: Munster 14-15 Ulster
Round Eight: Munster 24-17 Connacht
Round Nine: Edinburgh 17-38 Munster
Round 10: Munster 19-20 Leinster
Round 11: Ulster 14-15 Munster
Round 12: Munster 33-3 Lions
Round 13: Benetton 30-40 Munster
Round 14: Munster 58-3 Ospreys
Round 15: Munster 49-42 Scarlets
Round 16: Munster 26-38 Glasgow
Round 17: Stormers 24-26 Munster
Round 18: Sharks 22-22 Munster
Quarterfinal: Glasgow 5-14 Munster
Semifinal: Leinster 15-16 Munster
Tale of the tape
@rugby365com: Stormers by eight points
Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Angelo Davids, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jean-Jacques Kotze, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Ben-Jason Dixon, 20 Willie Engelbrecht, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 John Hodnett, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Diarmuid Barron, 1 Jeremy Loughman.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Roman Salanoa, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Alex Kendellen, 21 Craig Casey, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Keith Earls.
Date: Saturday, May 27
Venue: Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Kick-off: 18.30 (17.30 Ireland & UK time; 16.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Plenty of sunshine. High of 16°C and low of 8°C
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial