Late try breaks long trophy drought for Munster

rugby27 May 2023 18:46| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich

Flanker John Hodnett scored a try four minutes from time to secure Munster a deserved 19-14 win over the DHL Stormers at a packed DHL Stadium in a tense and close Vodacom United Rugby Championship final that secured them their first silverware in 12 years.

It looked like hosts had fought back from being significantly second best in the first half to put themselves in a position to retain the trophy they won by beating the Vodacom Bulls here last year.

The Stormers were leading 14-12 and had come close on a couple of occasions of making the game safe but on one of the rare Munster incursions into the Stormers half Manie Libbok, who had an erratic game, had a low trajectory kick charged down and Munster got hold of the ball just outside the Stormers’ 22.

The Irish team were always quite outstanding at retaining possession so that was trouble for the Stormers right there, and with the Stormers defenders suddenly looking out on their feet, the space was created out wide on the left for Hodnett to go over in the left hand corner.

Jack Crowley converted to force the Stormers into a position where they needed to score a converted try to win, and full marks to the Stormers for effort as they went back onto the attack and were pressing inside the Munster 22 with a driving maul at the end.


But they couldn’t quite cross the line despite the massive volume of their supporters on a day where their error rate was high, and Munster went wild with jubilation as the final whistle sounded.

It has been a remarkable turnaround for Munster, who were 14th on the log just before Christmas and have played all three of their playoff games away from home.

Indeed, the last six Munster games have been away, and they won five and drew one, with the Stormers being their victims twice.

So there shouldn’t be too much quibbling with their right to be crowned URC champions for the first time since they lifted the Celtic League title back in 2011, in other words 12 long years ago.

And to do it in front of a mostly Stormers supporting crowd of 56 300 was particularly special.

In truth, they should have been 15 points ahead at halftime such was their dominance in that period, and the end statistics made revealing reading if you consider that the Stormers did execute a quite comprehensive momentum shift in the second half.

The Stormers missed 31 tackles in the game against seven by the visitors, although that also tells you which team had the ball for most of the time.

Munster had spoken in the buildup of the need to control possession as a means to blunting the Stormers’ attacking threats, and they did that superbly, even though it was the Stormers who were the first to score when Libbok scored an intercept try after Antoine Frisch had thrown the ball wildly forward under pressure from Stormers centre Dan du Plessis.

Libbok converted from in front of the posts and the Stormers led 7-0 after seven minutes. Munster were quick to signal their intent not to go away however, and a marginal offside penalty call set up an attacking lineout from which Munster drove over the line all too easily.


The conversion was missed so the Stormers led 7-5, and that was the way it remained through a period when Munster had all of the game but just couldn’t get across the line.

Indeed, there were two tries disallowed before a Munster kick bounced badly for Libbok - the Stormers’ uneven home field wasn’t always their friend in this game - and the flyhalf slipped and wing Calvin Nash went over for the score that put his team in front for the first time.

That was in the 29th minute and came just before Evan Roos, the Stormers No 8, was reintroduced to the field after being yellow carded for a professional foul near the Stormers line.

The Stormers had done well to keep Munster out and there must have been an element of frustration in the Munster ranks, as their dominance of the collisions, the way they made the Stormers miss tackles when they moved the ball down the line and their complete mastery of the aerial battle in that first half just didn’t give them the reward they deserved.


There were several Stormers players who misfired on the big occasion, and one of them was Herschel Janjties, with it being surprising that Stormers coach John Dobson took until around the hour mark before introducing the slicker and more incisive Paul de Wet.

It was also slightly surprising that Dobson didn’t bring BJ Dixon on in the first half when it was clear that the Stormers were being outmuscled.

Dixon’s high work rate and physicality both as a ball carrier and defender might have come in useful, and it did when he came on in the second half.

Given how they’d been under pressure for the entire first half, the Stormers would have been in a strong psychological position had they kicked an easy penalty rather than gone for touch on the stroke of halftime.

The Stormers were showing signs of a momentum shift in the last minutes of the half, but they made errors in the Munster red zone that prevented them from profiting.

As it was, the Stormers should have felt it was a win that they trailed just 12-7, and in that sense there were shades of last year’s final against the Bulls. Back then though they managed to score late in the half, this year they didn't.


It required a strong start to the second half for the Stormers and they provided it, although Libbok’s miss from a kickable position when tallied together with the decision to eschew the kick on the stroke of halftime was costly in the end if you look at the six point winning margin for the visitors.

Like Munster did in the first half, the Stormers scored their second try when Munster were down to 14 men after fullback Mike Haley took out Stormers wing Angelo Davids after he had kicked it and was starting his chase.

That was in the 47th minute and the Stormers pummelled away at the line for another three minutes before Deon Fourie dotted down off a driving maul as the penalties began to rack up against the visitors.

Libbok’s excellent conversion from the touchline gave the Stormers the lead and that was the way it stayed until the Munster winning score 26 minutes later.

There were several occasions before that where it looked like the Stormers were building up for the score that would have made the game safe, but alas, rugby is a game of small margins, particularly in closely contested finals like this, and perhaps the margins that favoured them in last year’s finals went against them this time.


Munster had several standout performers, particularly at forward, but perhaps no-one was better on the day than their Tongan centre Malakai Fekitoa who was a scourge to the Stormers both when he had ball in hand and when he was defending.

Crowley also had a good tactical game in the No 10 jersey on a day when perhaps the Stormers moved away from their DNA and kicked more than they should have.

Correct that, perhaps the kicking was the right option given the wet underfoot conditions on what was otherwise a lovely clear Cape evening, it was just too often misdirected and seemed aimless.

It was an error ridden game but it didn’t lack drama, intensity and physicality. In other words typical finals footy, something that Munster are perhaps better equipped for than the Stormers.

There was a time when the Stormers looked out on their feet in the first half, but the same could be said for Munster quite deep into the second.

So for them, like so much that they have done recently, this was a triumph for their unconquerable spirit. They deserved their win and are worthy champions.

The Stormers will be left to reflect on what might have been but if they were honest with themselves the visitors, even though they left it late and were perhaps a little lucky to be presented with their scoring opportunity, were the better team.



Munster 19 - Tries: Diurmard Barron, Calvin Nash and John Hodnett; Conversions: Jack Crowley 2.

DHL Stormers 14 - Tries: Manie Libbok and Deon Fourie; Conversions: Manie Libbok 2.