Munster 34 Stormers 18
Munster huffed and puffed, and finally blew the Stormers away. In what actually turned out to be a pleasant if cold night in Limerick, the forecast rain didn’t arrive until the players were completing the post-match handshakes, but this win could have been taken from Munster’s dog-eared wet weather manual.
A distinct second best to a vibrant and more ambitious Stormers side, who deserved to be more than 15-0 ahead nearing the break, Munster wore down their South African visitors with five tries which had little or nothing to do with their backs.
This victory was almost all about the Munster pack, and their lineout, catch-and-drive and pick-and-goes.
Jack O’Donoghue, Munster’s best player when the going was toughest, was deservedly rewarded with two of them. Peter O’Mahony did much to keep them afloat too before Gavin Coombes came vibrantly to life in the second-half.
But the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for one of their South African brigade, RG Snyman, when marking his second comeback game with a forceful five-metre finish, which made it the pick of Munster’s five.
From O’Mahony’s take, Snyman peeled off the tail, wheeled away from Tim Swiel and barged through Leon Lyons to reach out for the line and slam the ball down – perhaps a portent of more Snyman slam dunks to come.
Cue the biggest roar of the night, and a drumbeat on his head of congratulatory slaps from Simon Zebo and co.
In truth, Munster were even slower out of the blocks than they had been a week ago. From the first lineout, Dan du Plessis (a try scorer and try creator last week in Treviso) straightened between Coombes and Joey Carbery before Munster were rescued by an O’Mahony turnover and then Manie Libbok was wide with a 43 metre penalty.
Carbery sliced his touchfinder to the ‘22’, the Stormers went through the phases and the ability of their forwards to play out of the tackle led to hooker Scarra Ntubeni dummying Casey before finding Libbok, who skipped past Haley’s tackle and fed Warrick Gelant for the finish.
But for Libbok missing the conversion and the Stomers then turning down a routine penalty at goal the lead would have been 10-0 rather than 5-0. Libbok’s kick still left them almost 20m metres short of the line and pressure from O’Donoghue, who had already pilfered one throw, led to another turnover.
It soon was mind, the Stormers launching another attack off a lineout on the Munster 10-metre line. When scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer switched back to the left off a ruck in the middle of the pitch, Munster were numbered up as Gelant moved the ball on to Ruhan Nel, but Calvin Nash shot in from his wing, not trusting Keith Earls on his inside, and Nel’s underarm offload gave the eye-catchingly speedy and elusive Leolin Zas a clear run to the line. Libbok thumped over the touchline conversion.
It could and should have been even worse for Munster soon after. The Stormers found space outside Earls again going wide right, and right winger Sergeal Petersen switched inside to break Coombes’ tackle.
Hammering away at the Munster line, openside Willie Engelbrecht appeared to have touched down before, a phase later Libbok was initially awarded the try beside the posts. But recourse to the TMO showed O’Mahony had done enough to prevent the touchdown, by millimeters.
Munster were being exposed out wide, were struggling to keep the ball through the phases and were incurring Andrew Brace’s displeasure. A sixth penalty, the count being 6-1 at that point, led to Gelant assuming making it 15-0.
Munster were finally sparked into life by Mike Haley regathering a high ball and then O’Donoghue and O’Mahony combing to release Shane Daly. But after Niall Scannell tapped a close-range penalty, O’Mahony and Jean Kleyn pre-latched onto Coombes.
Finally the penalty count turned. Carbery did miss a penalty to touch and fumbled a wounded duck of a pass from Casey before finding touch seven metres out from outside the 10-metre line. Although the maul was held up, after Rory Scannell trucked it up the pack went into pick and jam mode for O’Donoghue, easily their best player of the half, to rumble over.
Carbery’s conversion trimmed the deficit to 15-7 at the break, something of a result for Munster and their palpably relieved supporters.
On the resumption, the Stormers captain Salmaan Moerat did his team’s cause no good when sinbinned seemingly for dissent – a displeased Brace brandishing the yellow card while shaking his head.
Munster went to the corner and reverted to route one again, O’Mahony gathering Niall Scannell’s throw to the tail before another procession of pick-and-jams ended with Kleyn burrowing over.
Making the most of their numerical advantage, O’Mahony’s work in the tackle and the jackal earned another attacking lineout and, this time, for a little variety, from Kleyn’s take the pack scored off a patient pick-and-drive Niall Scannell got the touchdown. Both centres and blindside wing Calvin Nash joined in to make it an 11-man maul. That was about as close to the try-scoring action as the backs would have all night.
In the midst of all this unbroken pressure, there was an allegation of a bite mark on a teammate’s leg, but although Brace reviewed an incident could find no evidence to prove this claim.
After a lengthy dialogue between O’Mahony and Carbery, they were rewarded for going to the corner for more of the first and second scores, this time the maul leading to close-in pick and drives for O’Donoghue to claim his second try and the bonus point.
Although a Tim Swiel penalty briefly made it a one-score game again, Munster still went to their bench and the corner and, for a tad more variety, this time O’Mahony’s take was transferred to Snyman on the peel and the gargantuan World Cup winning lock finished with gusto.
For some reason, the on-field Munster brains trust opted to have Ben Healy kick the last penalty from 50-plus metres, given the angle, which he duly did.
Scoring sequence: 9 mins Gelant try 0-5; 20 mins Zas try, Libbok con 0-12; 30 mins Gelant pen 0-15; 40 (+1) mins O’Donoghue try, Carbery con 7-15; (half-time 7-15); 46 mins Kleyn try, Carbery con 14-15; 51 mins N Scannell try 19-15; 56 mins O’Donoghue try 24-15; 66 mins Swiel pen 24-18; 68 mins Snyman try, Healy con 31-18, 81 mins Healy pen 34-18.
Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Keith Earls, Rory Scannell, Shane Daly; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Keynan Knox; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Jack O’Donoghue, Gavin Coombes. Replacements: Jeremy Loughman for Kilcoyne (47 mins), RG Snyman for Kleyn (58 mins), Simon Zebo for Earls (60 mins), Stephen Archer for Knox (61 mins), Ben Healy for Carbery for (62 mins), Diarmuid Barron for N Scannell (70 mins), Rowan Osborne for Casey (72 mins), Jack O’Sullivan for O’Donoghue (73 mins).
Stormers: Warrick Gelant, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Dan du Plessis, Leolin Zas, Manie Libbok, Stefan Ungerer, Brok Harris, Scarra Ntubeni, Neethling Fouche, Adre Smith, Salmaan Moerat (capt), Nama Xaba, Willie Engelbrecht, Evan Roos. Replacements: Tim Swiel for Libbok (49 mins), Godlen Masimla for Ungerer (56 mins), Andre-Hugo Venter for Ntubeni, Leon Lyons for Harris, Sazi Sandi for Fouche (all 61 mins), Ernst van Rhyn for Smith, Marcel Theunissen for Xaba (both 66 mins), Rikus Pretorius for du Plessis (67 mins). Sinbinned – Moerat (44-54 mins).
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU).