Field of nightmares for Stormers
Cape side slip up in defence of the URC title against magnificent Munster
The biggest crowd for any final in the Mother City had descended on Cape Town Stadium but the intoxicating carnival atmosphere around the precinct and just before kickoff made way for something far more sobering in the United Rugby Championship (URC) final on Saturday.
It was Munster who prevailed 19-14 over the Stormers in this close-combat turf war to claim their first title since the 2010/11 season.
They hit the deck running and it was the home team that struggled to find their feet. Stormers coach John Dobson accepted culpability for perhaps not better attuning his team to the demands of what lay beneath.
“It was perhaps naive of us not to change our game model on that pitch,” said Dobson. “If you come with line speed and you miss the read you can’t turn and recover.
“Your transition, stepping countergame is gone and your scrum game is gone. Those are probably the three pillars of our game. It will be different next season and you don’t change your game model for one game.”
The much-maligned Cape Town Stadium pitch will be dug up and replaced with a hybrid surface in September but it is perhaps sod’s law that it pulled the rug from under the Stormers as they tried to defend their title.
Dobson though, is under no illusions, saying Munster “thoroughly deserved to win. The fight Munster had when we came back and threw the kitchen sink was remarkable.”
The Stormers coach explained it was a game of two halves. “Munster were superb in the first half and put us under enormous pressure. We can say it was our worse defensive half. They kept the ball in hand. By halftime we lost five of the six contestables.”
The Stormers simply could not rise to the occasion under the high ball. By contrast Munster’s halfbacks, Conor Murray and Jack Crowley, had the ball on a string when they sent to ball into the Cape Town night sky.
“In the second half when we started putting them under pressure I thought we were nano-seconds away from winning that game,” the coach reflected.
The cold reality however, is Munster were the superior side. They bossed the collisions, giving them traction at the ruck; they executed better in the battle for territory; they didn’t give an inch at the set pieces; and their defence was top drawer.
The Stormers also played into their hands by presenting the ball to the visitors far too easily. While Munster were willing and able ball-carriers and played with greater continuity in possession, the hosts often ran sideways and out of ideas. When they did they invariably hoofed the ball downfield in the hope of a recipient’s error.
Dobson held the view that “we ticked off our goals but we still feel sh*t”. He insisted his team did not feel overburdened by a build-up in which much of the focus turned to the tidal wave of support they would enjoy in the final.
“There was pressure but it was nice. It didn’t feel scary. We weren’t gripped by a fear of losing. We just wanted to make the people happy.”
He insisted that his team achieved what they had set out to do at the launch of the campaign.
“At the start of the season we wrote down we want to improve our depth, prove we belong at the top table of European rugby and increase the sense of belonging of everyone in the group, from the ground staff to the nonplaying squad, the 12 injured guys. And to make Cape Town smile.”
For a while there were smiles, but the hope and expectation ultimately made way for despair. Their field of dreams had turned into a nightmare.
Stormers (14) — Tries: Manie Libbok, Deon Fourie. Conversions: Libbok (2).
Munster (19) — Tries: Diarmuid Barron, Calvin Nash, John Hodnett. Conversion: Jack Crowley (2).
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