‘We just like the place’: Mood music is good on Munster’s URC road show

Before taking on the Lions as part of their attempt to finish the season on a high, Graham Rowntree’s side have returned to a familiar spot in Cape Town

After emerging victorious from the Bull Ring at Loftus Versfeld, where so many have barely escaped with a goring, Munster are feeling good as they face up to this week’s trip to the Lions’ den.

Munster have turned a difficult two weeks in South Africa into a momentum generator, an attitude changer. They left the high altitude of Pretoria and pitched tent at sea level in Cape Town and will travel to Johannesburg later in the week.

Head coach Graham Rowntree is satisfied the air mileage is worth it and their adaptation to altitude was done last week. Jumping from altitude to sea level and back to altitude, he says, should not be an enemy to success. And the squad enjoys what Cape Town has to offer.

“You keep the adaptation,” says Rowntree. “So, we haven’t lost the adaptation that we got last week. This place is good. Good recovery, nice restaurants, good hotel, which is important because you’ve got to pick the right place. You pick up bugs and sickness, which a lot of the teams can testify to.


“It’s a special home for us. We have been here before, it’s an impressive hotel in Cape Town. We have two games played up at altitude but we purposely come down here because we know they have got outstanding recovery facilities here as well.”

This week’s match at Emirates Airline Park – formerly Ellis Park – is less than 60km away from last week’s game in Pretoria. If last season was textbook in learning how to face the challenges of playing in South Africa, then Rowntree may be in refining mode.

Munster made three trips towards the end of last season before winning the United Rugby Championship (URC) title with a win over reigning champions the Stormers in Cape Town. Not a bad play book.

“Guys can get out into the area, and it’s a perfect time to get the group together, 24 hours a day, get to know each other - get connected, I think, is the current vernacular,” says Rowntree. “And we just like the place. We have got fond memories. The last time we were here we won the final, so it was a bit of a no-brainer to come down and give the lads a bit of a break. We will go back up to Jo’burg on Friday.”

A win this week would set up the perfect run in for Munster. After Saturday there are three more matches before the quarter-finals are decided. For Munster that’s home to Connacht, away to Edinburgh and home to Ulster at the end of May before the knock-out stages begin on June 7th.

The run into the end is becoming fraught and extremely tight for the top-placed teams. Just three points separate fifth to 11th place, and Munster clearly aspire to a top-four finish. It has not been overlooked that the Lions defeated Leinster 44-12 last week.

“[Winning] will take some doing,” says Rowntree. “This team [Lions] is highly underrated, and they can play rugby, and they can muscle up as well. They’re a hard team.

“We’ve analysed them well. I think they’re a very underrated team. You saw what they did to Connacht. You saw what they did to Leinster last week. We’ve got our hands full.”

Strange what a great win away from home can do for self-worth. Perhaps it’s a throwback to when Munster were famous for epic wins and defying the odds.

There was also an aspect of fate ... The Bulls, leading 22-17, looked set to enjoy a win when Canan Moodie scored a bonus-point try after 54 minutes. But it turned in Munster’s favour when referee Adam Jones suspected a high tackle on Craig Casey from outhalf Johan Goosen. With head-on-head contact the ruling, it was a straight red and the game turned towards Munster.

“I’ve got it [big-game feeling] for a long time from this club,” says Rowntree. “They roll their sleeves up, deal with adversity and move on., We speak a lot about moving on when things don’t go our way. That start of the second half we were under the cosh, weren’t we? There were a couple of good tries in that third quarter but we kept moving forward, stuck to our game.

“When the opportunities arose we took them. It was a brilliant kicking display from Jack Crowley, for John Hodnett’s try in particular, we got the power game going for RG Snyman’s try.

“Mur’s [Conor Murray] try was just incredible, we were looking at it in the review and I was struck by the fact we didn’t keep picking and going, the backs pulled the trigger quite early and they scored ... so we weren’t unhappy at their decision.”

In another sense, picking and going is exactly what Munster are doing.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times