After a dozen seasons as an assistant coach with Leicester, Harlequins, Georgia, England and the Lions, Graham Rowntree has admitted that helping Munster to the URC title, and their first trophy in 12 seasons, as the best day of his coaching career.
Speaking in the aftermath of Munster’s 19-14 win over the Stormers, the reigning champions, in the Grand Final in Cape Town Stadium, Rowntree admitted: “My best ever. It will sink in at some point. Depending on how much Pinotage I drink in the next 12 hours, it will sink in.
“No, it’s been my best day ever and just the manner in which we’ve done it. As I said yesterday, away from home, doing it tough, a tight group, not rotating the squad a lot, I’m immensely proud.”
Considering how Munster lost five of their first seven games, and went into their last two regular season games of the URC still unsure of reaching the last eight, to win the title with successive away wins over Glasgow, Leinster and the Stormers completes quite a rollercoaster.
“This won’t sink in for a long time,” Rowntree admitted. “It’s not been straightforward, this season, particularly the challenges we’ve had recently, sixth game on the road, to come and do this, sixth game on the road, I’m immensely proud of the group.
“It’s not been easy. I’ll let you know when it sinks in.”
The final was in keeping with their season, falling behind to an intercept try before earning a 12-7 interval lead which scarcely reflected their first-half superiority, and then ultimately winning through a superb team try in the 75th minute finished off by Man of the Match John Hodnett, and all after losing captain Peter O’Mahony in the 34th minute.
While his assistant coaches celebrated, particularly jubilant Mike Prendergast, Rowntree held his head in his hands.
“It’s just emotion,” Rowntree explained. “It’s just trying to take it all in, if I’m honest. The emotion, it was a fraught end to the game. With 15 minutes to go we had a lot of injuries and had to make some big decisions, it was a quite consuming game to say the least. I was just trying to take it all in.”
Tadgh Beirne, who was the Player of the Season with the Scarlets when they beat Munster in the 2017 final, was asked to put into words what it meant to be part of Munster’s first trophy success in 12 seasons.
“It’s incredible, and it’s not really about us really, It’s about the fans, it’s about everyone at home and families. We’ll enjoy it for sure but those fans have waited a long, long time. We spoke about how we’ve lost a lot of people as well within Munsrer, and it’s for those people as well and their families.
“It’s a special, special day for everyone, for everyone who travelled out here, which is a massive, massive amount of people, and everyone back home who’s watching from their couches and from wherever they’re watching it. This one is certainly for them.
“I would also give a massive shout out to our families as well who supported us through all the disappointments, and the highs and the lows over the last couple of years, and for some lads like Earlsy and Pete and ‘Mur’ and whoever, it’s been longer than just my five years that I’ve been with this club. It’s been a lot longer than that.
“So, to everyone’s families, it’s also for them, and no doubt they’re absolutely delighted for us back home.”