Africa-Press – South-Africa. At Cape Town Stadium
That is what the Stormers are left with following their 19-14 defeat to Munster in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship (URC) final defeat at a packed Cape Town Stadium.
RECAP | Agony for Stormers as Munster win URC final 19-14
The 2021/22 champions were favourites to win – they had been so brilliant through their playoff run – and 56 500 fans had crammed into this iconic rugby venue expecting to see another famous celebration.
It was not to be, and the Stormers have only themselves to blame.
This was easily their poorest outing of the knockout stages, and while they scraped and clawed their way into a second-half lead, they were ultimately let down by poor decision-making, a lack of accuracy and an inability to deal with a Munster aerial kicking game that dominated.
Munster were fully deserving winners.
It was not a fairytale send-off for Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff, who was greeted by a deafening roar when the stadium announcer confirmed that this was his final goodbye.
It had taken less than three hours for tickets to sell out last Thursday, and outside the venue in the hours before kickoff on Saturday, some had arrived in the desperate hope that they would find some, from somewhere.
By the time the sun had set, the stands were full and the atmosphere was electric. But as kickoff approached, the magnitude of the moment began to hit home.
This day was always going to be a celebration of South African and Stormers rugby regardless of the result, but at just after 18:30, the result was all that mattered.
This, after all, was a cup final where every movement, decision and mistake would be magnified.
An early intercept try from star flyhalf Manie Libbok on five minutes brought the house down, but what followed was easily the Stormers’ worst 40-minute performance of their playoff run.
Munster bossed the first-half territory and possession statistics, winning the aerial battle as Conor Murray’s educated, accurate box-kicking caused problems.
The Stormers simply couldn’t get hold of the ball, and when they did, they were under pressure and playing in the wrong areas of the park.
As both sides looked to settle into the contest early on, the excitement in the air quickly turned tense.
That was until Libbok – it just had to be him – latched onto a wayward pass from Munster centre Antoine Frisch, galloping 60-odd meters to score under the posts as Cape Town erupted.
It was the perfect start for the defending champions, but the joy was short-lived as Munster hit back with a try of their own through a dominant rolling maul on 10 minutes, finished off by hooker Diarmuid Barron.
The conversion from Jack Crowley was pulled left, and the Stormers led 7-5.
From then on, it was all Munster in the first half and the Stormers were relentlessly on the back foot.
On 19 minutes, 5m out from their own goal line with Munster benefiting from a varied attack that could be both direct and expansive, Evan Roos was yellow-carded for a professional foul, knocking the ball down at a ruck.
The Stormers then survived a scare when Tadhg Beirne was adjudged to have made a double movement forward on his way to grounding the ball over the line, before the visitors had another try disallowed for a forward pass from captain Peter O’Mahony to fullback Mike Haley.
The Stormers were clinging on.
Munster finally got their reward just before the half-hour mark when a cross-kick from Crowley found right wing Calvin Nash, and when the conversion then sailed over, the tourists had a 12-7 lead that really could have been more.
The Stormers finally had their opportunity as the half drew to a close, but the decision to turn down a gift three points proved to be the wrong one as a poor grubber from scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies saw them lose possession again.
Trailing 12-7 at the break, the Stormers were awarded a penalty shortly after the restart and did opt to kick for goal this time, but Libbok pushed his effort to the right.
The Stormers flyhalf has been superb all season and, throughout the playoffs, he kicked everything from everywhere. There was a deathly hush when he missed here.
The good news for the hosts, though, is that they were starting to get into the game a bit more.
There would surely have been some strong words at half-time, but the Cape Town crowd also found its voice in the second period, almost trying to shock the Stormers into life.
Munster were then dealt a yellow card to Haley, who took out the legs of Angelo Davids long after the Stormers wing had kicked ahead.
Again, the Stormers were opting against taking the three points when they were on offer, and when they set up an attacking lineout from 5m out down the right, they were about to get back into the game.
The Munster maul defence had been hugely impressive, but as Cape Town willed the Stormers on inch by inch, it was Deon Fourie who found a way over.
Libbok nailed the conversion, and despite spending most of the game on the back foot, the Stormers were somehow 14-12 up after 50 minutes.
That was still the scoreline on 60 minutes as Munster continued to bash away without reward, and as the sides emptied their benches, the final was set up for a cracking finish.
The killer blow for the Stormers came late on when Libbok was charged down trying to clear from his own 22m area. Munster went through the phases, piling on the pressure, which eventually saw John Hodnett going over.
You could hear a pin drop. Again.
The Stormers had three minutes left to pull off a miracle, and while they got deep into Munster’s 22m area with a rolling maul that had the whole city off their seats, it ran out of puff, and the South African rugby community was shocked.
Munster, meanwhile, will celebrate their first URC win since 2011.
Stormers 14 (7)
Tries: Manie Libbok, Deon Fourie
Conversions: Libbok (2)
Munster 19 (12)
Tries: Diarmuid Barron, Calvin Nash, John Hodnett
Conversion: Jack Crowley (2)