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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Things didn’t all go Munster’s way, but we knew we had to keep the ball against powerful Stormers, says Graham Rowntree

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Cape Town – Munster had done their homework on the Stormers, and despite some decisions going against them, coach Graham Rowntree expressed his delight with how his players kept “sticking in the game” to win the United Rugby Championship final 19-14 on Saturday night.

A record crowd of over 56 000 spectators at Cape Town Stadium couldn’t overwhelm the visitors as the Irish outfit maintained their composure when trailing 14-12 in the second half, and got the winning try by flank John Hodnett in the closing stages to stop the Stormers from claiming a second consecutive URC title.

The Cape side had enough chances in the second half in particular to score more than the two tries by Manie Libbok and Deon Fourie, but an outstanding defensive effort kept Munster in the game, while scrumhalf Conor Murray’s accurate box-kicks put Libbok and Damian Willemse under enormous pressure.

They struck when it mattered most as Man-of-the-Match Hodnett finished on the left after Libbok’s clearing kick from the 22 was charged-down.

“I thought we were pretty good in the first half in terms of keeping the ball and our phase attack – we were making them work, particularly their tight-five, work a lot,” former England prop Rowntree said afterwards.

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“I was disappointed that we didn’t go in at halftime 19 points up (the Irish side led 12-7) – the Gavin Coombes try that was disallowed was a perfectly good try, and I was disappointed with that.

“But we knew that we had to keep the ball against these (guys), which is a challenge on a pitch like that.

“We had to deal with their power game… We did our homework on them, because they’re a great team, led by a great coach. It was the current champions in their home stadium with 50 000 fans – it was going to take a big game from us.

“It was a question of sticking in the game. Things didn’t all go our own way – big moments around the breakdown, some penalty decisions against us. Big momentum swings in the game, and a couple of mauls where we were done for obstruction: we’ve got to show better pictures there.

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“We were doing well, and then we were hit back again, hit back again, and then you’ve got to recover. And what we have learnt is the ability in pressure away from home to recover.

“I keep saying we’re battle-hardened. We’ve not been able to rotate the squad massively, and the same guys have been rolling out, but it’s made us fit and match-hardened.”

Not even yellow cards to fullback Mike Haley and flyhalf Jack Crowley could prevent the Irish province from clinching their first title in 12 years.

They also had two tries disallowed by Italian referee Andrea Piardi, with No 8 Gavin Coombes adjudged to have made a second movement before dotting down in the 20th minute, while six minutes later, Haley’s five-pointer was ruled out for a forward pass by captain Peter O’Mahony.

The skipper’s forced departure late in the first half, due to a head knock, was another significant blow for the visitors, but Munster kept going until the end to seal a memorable victory in what was their sixth consecutive match away from home – five in the URC and one in the Champions Cup.

“I am pleased with the result! It’s not for me currently to comment on the referee – it’s not an easy job that… 50 000, your first big final like that for Andrea. I thought his composure was good – it’s not for me to comment on that performance. I am just happy with the performance of our players and the result,” Rowntree said.

“We had to be smart around the breakdown. As I said, there were a couple of pivotal penalties that went against us – Gav Coombes at the end of the first half, and Steven Kitshoff won the same penalty around 45 minutes or so.

“We had to be clean at the breakdown, which is a lot easier if you win the collisions – because this Stormers team can break you, they can hurt you very quickly if you give them the ball and kick loosely to them.

“But I was pretty pleased with our breakdown work. We gave away a daft penalty towards the end there and Jack Crowley got yellow-carded for it. But that aside, I thought our breakdown work was pretty clean.”


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