Munster named URC champions after beating holders Stormers

Munster named URC champions after beating holders Stormers

Munster won their first major trophy for 12 years by landing the Vodacom United Rugby Championship title following an absorbing 19-14 victory over the DHL Stormers in Cape Town.

Flanker John Hodnett's try five minutes from time - converted from the touchline by fly-half Jack Crowley - denied the Stormers back-to-back URC crowns.

It was Munster's fifth successive away game in the competition as they turned around their fortunes following final defeats in 2015, 2017 and 2021.

Flanker Deon Fourie's try early in the second half, converted by Manie Libbok, looked to have swayed an intense and ferociously-committed encounter Stormers' way before Hodnett pounced.

Fly-half Libbok scored a interception try he also converted but Munster led by five points at the break following touchdowns from hooker Diarmuid Barron and wing Calvin Nash while Jack Crowley added one conversion.

Both sides had their chances in a game where there was so little between the teams, yet ultimately Munster had enough in the tank to deliver silverware for their 2,000 travelling fans and confirm the impact head coach Graham Rowntree has made.

South Africa internationals Fourie and Marvin Orie returned to the Stormers line-up after recovering from injury for a 55,000 sell-out encounter at DHL Stadium.

Rowntree, meanwhile, made three changes from the side that defeated semi-final opponents Leinster, with Nash, centre Malakai Fekitoa and scrum-half Conor Murray all returning after completing return-to-play protocols following the quarter-finals.

Stormers struck an opening blow after just six minutes. Early momentum was undone when centre Antoine Frisch's pass from just inside his own half went to straight to Libbok, who sprinted clear to claim a try he also converted.

But Munster regrouped impressively and they breached Stormers' defence just four minutes later when their forwards drove a close-range lineout and Barron burrowed over for the try.

The Munster forwards were relishing the battle and they almost added a second try after Stormers number eight Evan Roos was yellow-carded for deliberate offside but number eight Gavin Coombes' effort was disallowed.

Stormers could not get their free-flowing game going, being outsmarted by Murray's clever and accurate box-kicking as they found themselves penned inside their own half.

Munster's finishing was the only area where they let themselves down, with a second try being ruled out after captain Peter O’Mahony delivered a forward pass to full-back Mike Haley.

The Irish side made it third time lucky, though, midway through the second quarter after Crowley's superb cross-kick was gathered by Nash, who finished impressively and Crowley converted for a five-point lead.

But Munster lost O'Mahony just before the interval when he went off for a head injury assessment and was replaced by RG Snyman.

Libbok missed a chance to reduce the deficit when he drifted a penalty wide just two minutes into the second half before Munster saw Haley sin-binned following a late challenge on Stormers wing Angelo Davids.

The Stormers immediately made their temporary one-man advantage count, with Munster powerless to halt a lineout drive that ended through Fourie touching down and Libbok converting.

It was a far more cohesive Stormers display in the second period, despite stamina-sapping conditions, and they retained a two-point advantage entering the final 15 minutes.

But Hodnett and Crowley then struck and Munster had achieved mission improbable despite a late yellow card for Crowley.

Vodacom Player of the Match

Hodnett might be largely unheralded but his impact on this season's gripping final was immense.

A tireless work-rate reaped its reward when he pounced for a match-winning try five minutes from time as Stormers saw their hopes of back-to-back titles disappear.

In stamina-sapping conditions, it was almost a case of survival of the fittest and Hodnett never stopped, whether in defence, his work at the breakdown or around the field.

Play of the match

It was a try worthy of winning any game but Hodnett's 75th-minute touchdown that Crowley converted completed a stunning Munster performance.

Both teams were almost out on their feet after giving it everything but, with Munster trailing by two points and time running out, they summoned one final heroic effort as Haley's mesmeric long pass held Stormers defenders spellbound before Hodnett caught it at full speed and the rest is history.

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