Graham Rowntree paid tribute to the Red Army after Munster rewarded their travelling fans by winning the 2022-23 Vodacom United Rugby Championship in Cape Town on Saturday.
Munster ended a 12-year wait for the major title by stunning the DHL Stormers at a sold-out DHL Stadium, dethroning the defending champions to claim their first silverware since 2011.
Speaking after the match, an emotional coach Rowntree hailed his squad for dealing with difficult moments throughout the season.
“That’s elation for me, that, head in my hands… it was emotional at the end there. It’s a huge moment for the club, the players and fans, who have been patient waiting for this trophy,” said Rowntree.
“We have lost some special people in that time. Pete spoke wonderfully about it at the end, this is for the people we have lost over the years. This is a special group. There are older players who have waited patiently, Peter being one of them, to win a trophy.
“I am immensely proud of this group. The whole province, the wider playing group, the people back home, the Red Army that followed us here. When we drove into the stadium, there was a Red Army waiting for us on the road outside. I am delighted for those people, we did it for them.
“For the game itself, I am proud of the lads, we did it tough. We spoke extensively about it being our sixth game away from home, to come and do this… the places we have gone, the performances we have put in, we always stick in the game. We showed it at the end there, against adversity. I am unbelievably proud of everyone involved in this club that is Munster.”
Looking at the final performance, Rowntree felt Munster could have got greater reward from their dominant first half, where they controlled possession and territory.
“We were pretty good in the first half in terms of keeping ball. We were making them work, in particular their tight five. I was disappointed not to go into half time 19-7 up. Gavin Coombes’ try that was disallowed was a perfectly good try.
“We knew we had to keep the ball against them, which is a challenge on the pitch like that. We had to deal with their power game. We did our homework. They are a great team led by a great coach. They are champions, playing at their home in front of 55 000 fans.
“It was going to take a big game from us. It was question of sticking in the game. Things didn’t all go our own way, there were some big decisions went against us, big momentum swings.
“We were doing well, then getting hit back again and having to recover. We’ve learned under pressure away from home to recover. I keep saying we are battle-hardened. We haven’t been able to rotate the squad, but that has made us fit and match-hardened.”
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images