Following Munster’s 26-24 victory over the Stormers, Planet Rugby unpacks five takeaways from the Cape Town clash on Saturday.
A fantastic contest
An outstanding display at the Cape Town Stadium, a match played at a furious pace with incredible physicality and a hint of desperation on both sides as the two sides brawled.
The strength, skill and pace at which the game was played was a joy to watch, as tempers boiled over and the seesaw group battle was brilliant advertisement for the competition.
There was either a big hit or a wipe out almost every step of the game in the first half as the two sides traded blow for blow, with the Stormers landing the finishing punch to level the scores at 12 apiece during the interval.
While the pace of play understandably dropped in the second half, it was still an unreal contest.
Little separated the sides during the game, and the difference of two points in the final score was a fair result.
Munster points out Stormers weaknesses
Nearly every phase of the game was contested as if the match was on the line but the one area Munster exploited the Stormers was in the mauls.
Diarmuid Barron crossed the whitewash twice for Province Ireland in the first half, and at the other end twice blocked the hosts’ maul close to the try-line. Gavin Coombes and RG Snyman were the key men in their success, the latter paving the way for Barron’s second try as Coombes made an incredible turnover on his own line.
Peter O’Mahony also played a crucial role, lobbying with his protests. He took a bad shot from Joseph Dweba in his 22-man and didn’t give the home side easy access to the ball from set-piece. The Ireland international was outstanding throughout the game, getting stuck in the heat of the match and producing in the big moments, whether it was a turnover at the break or a big hit.
19-year-old forward Suleiman Hartzenberg enjoyed a stellar rookie season for the Cape team but still has a few flaws in his game that need to be ironed out. One of them is his decision making on defense. In the second half, Munster tried to isolate him and force him into a bad decision. The first time they did it, Seabelo Senatla saved his fellow sprinter, but the second time, Hartzenberg wasn’t so lucky as Shane Daly accelerated his wing and finished the run wide.
Springboks fans finally got to see Snyman back in action on the South African grass earlier this month, and in his second game, the lock didn’t disappoint. He made a pounding shot in the first play of the game, from which Munster won a penalty. The South African great claimed the resulting line-out as Munster’s rolling maul produced the opening score.
This set the tone for a spirited performance from the 28-year-old, who continually improves with every minute of the game he gets.
His work in the lineout and mauls was superb, while he also showed off his softer skills with some stellar offloads.
He left the field for a 65th-minute HIA after a dynamic and well-rounded performance in all crucial facets of a lockout’s game.
It would be remiss not to mention his back row mate, Jean Kleyn, who had a spectacular match against his former club. While Snyman had several flashy moments for Munster, Kleyn was the opposite of him. The cliché that he did all the “donkey work” rings true for the 29-year-old. He was often in the perfect position to clean up a loose ball, plow into a ruck and make shots on the forwards of the big Stormers. He also made a brilliant last-gasp tackle on Manie Libbok to prevent the fly-half sprinting through a gap.
The Stormers’ middle pairing has solidified
Damian Willemse shone in the Stormers’ number 12 shirt when he lined up for the Capetonians this and last season.
However, Dan du Plessis has made that jersey his own during this time and his combination with Ruhan Nel continues to impress and improve.
There was no better example of their growing understanding of Nel’s interplay of try just before the break. Du Plessis carried the ball hard to the line, sold the back pass perfectly to Libbok in the boot and played In the flat, which fell over the line.
Du Plessis made the break and occupied three Munster players, creating space for Nel to run and secure the losing bonus point for the side.
Facing the excellent Munster pairing of Malakai Fekitoa and Antoine Frisch, the combination of the Stormers produced an outstanding performance.
Willemse also had another solid game at fullback as the Stormers’ back-line sorted itself out in time for the closing stages of the season.
Game of thin margins
In a game that meant so much to the final standings of the regular season, this was always going to be played with knockout intensity.
The first shots of the game only strengthened the attitude of the two sides towards the game.
Munster were underdogs going into the match and battled for every small win throughout the match, culminating in their first away win at Cape Town Stadium since December 2021.
Coombes forcing his way from just a meter after two carriers were stopped only briefly highlights how close he was.
While John Dobson will be disappointed that his side’s 19-game home unbeaten run has come to an end, there were so many positives from the match. Evan Roos produced a strong change on his return from injury, while BJ Dixon and Willie Engelbrecht returned to score, the latter impressing in the absence of Deon Fourie. Even the hosts did not lack chances; they just needed to capitalize on them better, while Libbok had an uncharacteristic performance off the tee as he dropped 13 runs.
As for Munster, it’s a big win over the defending champions and a far cry from the side that started the season so poorly. They are now guaranteed a place in the play-offs and travel to Durban next week where they could secure a home quarter-final, a brilliant turnaround and proof that Graham Rowntree is doing things right.
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The article United Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from Stormers v Munster as Irish side end champions’ 19-game home run first appeared on Planetrugby.com.