MUNSTER will look to back up their opening six-try United Rugby Championship victory over the Cell C Sharks last weekend with a second home win over another of the South African new boys, the DHL Stormers, this Saturday evening at Thomond Park.
The new South African franchises do not appear to be the strongest, at present, with only the Emirates Lions of the four teams managing a victory on opening weekend.
They managed to beat Zebre in Italy, 26-38, so this would appear to be a great opportunity for Munster to get a flying start to their URC campaign with a couple of big home victories against these South African sides right now, as the likelihood is that they will be much stronger later in the year when they get their Springboks back.
The Stormers began life in northern hemisphere club rugby last weekend with a loss in Italy, as they went down 22-18 to Benetton.
They had actually been leading the Round 1 clash by 18-7 after 44 minutes at the Stadio Monigo only for the home side to score 15 unanswered points late on.
Obviously, this is an extremely small sample size, but this could well point to an opportunity for Munster to exploit their superior fitness levels and stronger bench late on come Saturday night.
In Italy their centre pairing of Ruhan Nel and Rikus Pretorius managed to pilfer a try each, so this partnership may take watching, while former Springbok U20 star Manie Libbok is your typical goal-kicking South African outhalf.
Full-back Warrick Gelant and hooker Scarra Ntubeni were the only members of the Stormers starting line-up from last weekend to have been capped by the full Springboks side so that in itself is an illustration of what a young and inexperienced side Munster will face on Saturday evening.
The rest of the squad have plenty of underage and sevens exposure, but the likes of Steven Kitschoff, Frans Malherbe, and Hershel Jantjies, who are all away on duty with Rassie Erasmus’ South African squad in the Rugby Championship, are badly missed in the experience and leadership stakes.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan will have been pleased with the manner in which Munster dispatched the Sharks last Saturday.
There was obviously an element of rustiness in Munster’s play last week, although the set-piece seemed in very good order against what was your typically enormous South African pack.
The Munster lineout was bang on the money throughout, while Munster managed to win a couple of key penalties at scrum time too.
One of the standout stats from last Saturday was that Munster had 13 offloads over the course of the 80 minutes, as this is not something that Munster would normally be associated with. It will be worth watching on Saturday night to see whether this will become a trend and a key feature of how Munster look to break teams down, going forward.
Munster managed to get a quarter of an hour into giant second-row RG Snyman last week. The World Cup winner has endured a torrid 12 months due to a devastating cruciate ligament injury suffered last September against Leinster, but hopefully, this injury issue is now behind him and Munster will get to use him in big games going forward.
It will be fascinating to see how his sheer bulk and explosive power can be utilised by Munster in this campaign.
Rosscarbery’s own John Hodnett has also had a tough time of it since suffering an Achilles rupture last November, and it was welcome news to see him return to full training this week, and he will be competing for a back row starting jersey in the coming weeks for Munster.
He may have been out of sight a bit thanks to this injury, but his performances for the Ireland U20s back in 2019 mean that, at only 22 years of age, he remains a major prospect for the Munster back row now and into the future, along with other young back rowers from Cork such as Gavin Coombes, Alex Kendellen, and John O’Sullivan.