Munster are back
Trophies are hard to come by in rugby. There are only two per season. It’s not like other sports, with Milk Cups/Tea Cups/Egg Cups, or whatever.
Munster’s win over Leinster in Thomond Park in 2011 was their fourth trophy in six seasons, and the ensuing drought was made to feel all the worse by that neighbour hoovering up silverware.
Munster have remained one of the biggest rugby brands in the global game, but could only go living off even their compelling history and past deeds for so long. Amid disconcerting signs that they were not being especially well run (and those concerns haven’t entirely gone away) the brand needed proof that they are still major players.
They have it now, and they’ll be among the top seeds in the draw for next season’s Champions Cup.
The URC may have come of age
Neither the pitch nor the officiating was up to scratch but after pandemic-related teething problems, the South Africans have definitely upped standards and bought into the tournament, witness this 55,000 sell-out.
Saturday’s outcome was also probably the ideal one. Whereas last year’s final was a South African derby, even in defeat Stormers’ coach John Dobson admitted: “This felt like something proper, something different – our connection with Cape Town and the crowd, and playing a famous Irish province with a proud tradition, who were desperate to win a title.
“I think for the URC this was possibly a coming of age. For us it felt like a really special occasion. I’d imagine if we ended up playing Munster next season at Thomond Park, it would be largely the same and that means it’s a special tournament.”
Long haul travelling needn’t be such an issue
Granted, Munster crucially had a week off after their victory over Leinster and spent this week at sea level. Even so, it’s worth noting that Munster’s last home game of the season was way back in March, when their hopes of a home quarter-final were effectively eroded by a morale-sapping 38-26 beating by Glasgow.
By the time they return to Shannon Airport with the trophy on Monday, they will have travelled over 100,000 kilometres in the ensuing nine weeks. This sequence of six away games, four of them in South Africa, began with the Sharks shredding their Champions Cup hopes, but an unlikely five-game unbeaten run has delivered a memorable, landmark title and vindicated Graham Rowntree’s belief that their travels had helped Munster become match-hardened.
A rising tide lifts all boats
This sleeves-rolled-up charge to a URC title can only have upped Munster’s representation in the wider Word Cup training squad of up to 45 players being announced this week. Jack Crowley was always likely to make the cut anyway but his classy displays in the last two games look to have sealed the deal.
Andy Farrell likes wingers who become involved, and both Calvin Nash and Shane Daly have shown that in abundance, and though he’s yet to feature in a wider squad, how can John Hodnett be overlooked any longer? He may look like an Argentinian hooker but he has that Munster dog in him and his ability to play deep into the 80 minutes has been vital in the last two wins.
This was a triumph for bravery on and off the pitch
Old-school Munster values of grit, togetherness and character have come shining through in their five-game unbeaten away run to a first title in 12 years, not least in rediscovering their defensive defiance after a couple of chastening defeats. But despite the error-strewn five defeats in their opening seven games which were a consequence of developing their new game at a much higher tempo in training, Graham Rowntree, Mike Prendergast, Denis Leamy, Andi Kyriacou and the players never wavered.
Ultimately, the match-winning attacking drives against Leinster and the Stormers were a consequence of Munster’s desire to keep playing, to keep passing, looking for space, picking good lines and reaching the edges. Rather than reverting to the one of old, they stuck to the script and were rewarded.