Battle-hardened Munster ready to stand up and fight in Stormers finale
The Red Army are on the march, this time to Cape Town, as hordes of loyal Munster supporters dig deep into their pockets in the hope of witnessing a large slice of history on Saturday.
It has been 12 long years since Munster got their hands on a trophy, and while a formidable challenge awaits at the home of the URC champions, Graham Rowntree’s men will travel to South Africa with every reason to believe they can do another number on the Stormers.
Tournament organisers reckon approximately 5,000 Munster fans will make the expensive trip.
Life on the road is nothing new to these supporters in recent weeks as tomorrow marks two months to the day that Munster last played at home.
That heavy 38-26 defeat to Glasgow could easily have derailed their season, and when Munster followed it up with another poor showing the following week in Durban to limp out of the Heineken Champions Cup, it appeared the writing was on the wall.
But this squad is nothing if not resilient and the impressive run of results that has seen them go unbeaten in their last four tough away games has been remarkable.
As the fallout continues from Leinster’s Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle, there is major concern that Leo Cullen’s side were not battle-hardened enough leading into such a brutal test.
Leinster will have regrets about not fielding a stronger side in their URC semi-final loss to Munster, and as much as hindsight is great, we have seen the positive effects on the flip side, when it comes to Munster’s form.
With their season very much on the line, Rowntree has had little choice but to play his strongest available team for the last couple of months.
Having to play away from home is difficult enough at the best of times, yet when you throw in three trips to South Africa in quick succession, it makes life all the more tricky.
From a logistics perspective, Munster’s backroom team have been working tirelessly ahead of the squad’s departure to Cape Town earlier this week.
The long-haul flight must be second nature at this stage, as the squad look to deliver one final collective push to win the province’s first silverware since 2011.
That Munster’s upturn in their end-of-season form began in DHL Stadium just over five weeks ago means they return to Cape Town full of expectation.
The manner of their impressive 26-24 win showed they can mix it with the South Africans away from home, and backing it up with a gutsy draw against the Sharks, two weeks after they were hammered at Kings Park, also bodes well for their chances of causing an upset this weekend.
After ending the Stormers’ unbeaten home record, Glasgow’s was the next to fall in the URC quarter-final before Munster produced one of the best results in their recent history by handing Leinster a rare defeat in Dublin. Coming down from that emotional high was always going to be a big challenge, but having had last weekend off to recover, Rowntree will have been in a good place to pick his charges up to go again.
That RG Snyman, Conor Murray, Malakai Fekitoa, Calvin Nash, Ben Healy and Jean Kleyn should be available adds to the optimism.
For all of their impressive form, Munster feel like there is more to come in terms of delivering a complete 80-minute performance.
They will need that to cope with the inevitable onslaught that awaits from a Stormers side, whose wild celebrations following Leinster’s defeat won’t have gone unnoticed.
Munster would love nothing more than to spoil the party and take advantage of any complacency that may exist in the champions’ ranks.
This has all the makings of a classic Munster underdog story, as the Red Army mobilises.
Getting to a final in year one of Rowntree’s reign means Munster are ahead of schedule, but talk of bonus territory will be dismissed because now they are here, Peter O’Mahony and Co will be doing everything to take advantage of this opportunity.
It has been quite the roller-coaster journey to get to this URC final, but at the start of this six-game away streak, you’d have gotten good odds on Munster being the last province standing.
Reds’ recent record on the road
Saturday, April 1, Kings Park, Durban Sharks 50 Munster 35 (Champions Cup)
Saturday, April 15, DHL Stadium, Cape Town Stormers 24 Munster 26 (URC)
Saturday, April 22, Kings Park, Durban Sharks 22 Munster 22 (URC)
Saturday, May 6, Scotstoun, Glasgow Glasgow 5 Munster 14 (URC)
Saturday, May 13, Aviva Stadium, Dublin Leinster 15 Munster 16 (URC)