South Africa’s Stormers will aim for back-to-back wins in the United Rugby Championship final in Cape Town on Saturday but standing in their way are imposing Munster, the only team to have beaten them at home in the last 18 months.
The Irish side are expected to bring as many as 5 000 fans to the southern tip of Africa for a final where all 55 000 tickets were sold out inside three hours of going on sale, such has been the appetite of Stormers fans to see their side retain the trophy.
Munster received a significant boost this week when centre Malakai Fekitoa, scrumhalf Conor Murray, utility back Calvin Nash and giant Springbok lock RG Snyman completed return to play protocols after being sideline with injuries. Lock Jean Kleyn and flyhalf Ben Healy are also scheduled to be cleared this week.
Only one @Vodacom #URC Grand Final captain will lift the trophy, who is going to rise to victory? ??#UnitedWeRise | #STOvMUN pic.twitter.com/jreRBC5AUi — Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) May 25, 2023
Snyman’s industry in disrupting the line-out was the catalyst for Munster’s surprise 26-24 win in Cape Town in the pool stages, making them the only overseas team to win away at the Stormers in either the URC or European Rugby’s Champions Cup since the latter started competing in December 2021.
“We go to Cape Town with belief,” Munster coach Graham Rowntree told reporters. “This group won’t give in and we have come through some fires in the last few weeks. It will be our sixth away game on the bounce, and that’s when we are finding out about people.”
Rowntree admits the Stormers will have learned much about his side from that defeat in April.
“Looking at how we broke them down and dealt with their power game (will help Munster win), but they’ll be better than that night,” he said. “They’ll be battle-hardened themselves, so it will be a real challenge for us.”
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The Stormers have been able to welcome back two key Springboks for the final, loose-forward and master of the breakdown Deon Fourie, as well as lock Marvin Orie.
They play a high-octane brand of running rugby and no side secured more try-scoring bonus points in the pool stage than coach John Dobson’s side, with 13 from their 18 games.
They have playmakers throughout the backline and have excelled under the high ball, which compliments their strong pack of forwards.
The match will be a Stormers farewell for captain Steven Kitshoff, who will join Munster’s Irish rivals Ulster next season.
“I think the emotion will come in afterwards but for now it’s about getting the alignment of the team and management all 100 per cent focused on the game,” Bok prop Kitshoff said.
“For us, it was about getting over these two (knockout) hurdles and having a full go at the trophy again and trying to defend it with everything that we’ve got.”