“Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
I’d hazard a guess that Graham Rowntree knows those famous words. Forget rugby for a moment, but Munster’s journey this season has been all about every word of that great Churchillian quote. It’s very hard to think of a recovery in any team sport that has matched their comeback this season. Starting with only two wins from the opening seven URC matches, catastrophe was staring them straight in the face. Things looked hopeless.
Clinging on by what was left of their fingernails, they dug in and, against all predictions, they made the play-offs. Well, that would do, wouldn’t it? Not a chance, not for this team it wouldn’t, so they kept their bags packed and continued on the road away from home, downing Glasgow and Leinster before arriving in Cape Town.
With five minutes left on the clock Munster trailed, but not by much, just 12-14. It looked like the major talking points would be some decisions by Italian referee Andrea Piardi, including a penalty count heavily, though not deliberately, weighted in the Stormers’ favour.
But don’t forget, Munster made things difficult for themselves at times too. A shocker of a misfired pass by Antoine Frisch was plucked out of the air by Mannie Libbok and it was a freebie seven pointer for the home team. Two lineout maul penalties were also foolishly given away with the Stormers goalline in sight. Come on lifters, you know well you can’t block the catcher from the opposition. Those missed opportunities could so easily have been critically wasteful.
The final attack by Munster yielded a terrific try, which saw the quite brilliant John Hodnett, an inspired selection, cross out wide after a superb no-panic move, with the conversion supplied by the equally brilliant Jack Crowley. Seems like Munster may just have the next Johnny Sexton in their possession.
Piardi, in at the deep end but still the best available, will have learned a lot, and he’ll need to study carefully some of his calls. I’m not sure what issues John Dobson, the Stormers coach, will have for him, but things that went against the visitors were potentially more critical. Very fortunately, in the heel of the hunt, these did not influence the totally merited result.
I doubt if the coach would have even bothered with a query if Piardi had awarded Gavin Coombes a try, his reach for the line seemed to be well within the law. It did not look like the double movement we were told it was, despite TMO Ben Whitehouse giving the decision his imprimatur.
Stormers’ Damian Willemse was guilty of a cheapshot on Calvin Nash after the wing had scored his try. Play should have restarted with a penalty to Munster, as this is gratuitous foul play which must always have consequences. It was poor officiating that it was not sanctioned correctly, probably worth a yellow card too.
The unlucky Peter O’Mahony was in the wars again, and forced off before half-time. But there was no foul play as he offloaded for a disallowed try; a perfectly legal tackle saw him fall into the path of another defender, who simply couldn’t avoid the collision.
Preventing a player from rolling away from the breakdown is outlawed, so the penalty against RG Snyman, completely trapped under Stormers’ bodies, wasn’t in line with that intel. Then Steven Kitshoff was rewarded for poaching, when the penalty should have gone the other way for “hands on the ground beyond the ball”.
Some referees, as in these two instances, are very fast on the draw, others less so, and World Rugby needs to ensure a very high level of consistency in these areas, as it’s an absolute imperative that all referees are on the same page vis-a-vis the breakdown.
URC are never slow to promote the excellence of their tournament, and in this year’s edition they really do have a point. But what about the pitch? It was a disgrace, and never again should it, or anything similar, be allowed to host any match, let alone the final.
The afternoon finished with a lively interview with man of the match Hodnett. His effervescent enthusiasm spoke volumes for the spirit that exists in the Munster camp. He didn’t even notice that he’d slipped in a four letter word, as in: “Yeah, f**k it, some win in fairness.” O’Mahony’s reaction, as he covered his face with his hand, was priceless. You couldn’t have made it up, it will become part of the folklore of a famous day.
Considering all the circumstances, this Munster victory matched anything that has previously been achieved by the club, and the best word to this team of champions is not, of course, one of four letters – it’s “admiration,” plain and simple. Same again next season, please. I think we’ll get it.