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Beirne: Travelling Fans Gave Us Extra Edge

Beirne: Travelling Fans Gave Us Extra Edge

Ireland international Tadhg Beirne spoke to the media following Munster's brilliant win over the DHL Stormers in the BKT United Rugby Championship final ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Tadhg Beirne paid tribute to the fans who followed Munster down to Cape Town for their stirring 19-14 BKT United Rugby Championship final win over the DHL Stormers.

Upwards of 5,000 Munster supporters watched Graham Rowntree’s men dethrone last year’s champions with another pulsating play-off performance on the road – their third in the space of three weeks.

After playing a pivotal role in the second row and then the back row following captain Peter O’Mahony’s injury-enforced departure, Beirne spoke of his ‘elation’ as Munster won their first major trophy since 2011.

“It means a lot, particularly for the fans who have waited a long time for this. To see the amount of fans that have come out here and spend hard-earned money to support us, it’s incredible,” he said.

“Seeing those fans with all the red flags, we all spoke about it on the way in (to the stadium), we were in disbelief about it. That drove us on, it gave us an extra edge today.

“The older lads that have been here, especially ‘Earlsy’ (Keith Earls), ‘Archie’ (Stephen Archer), Pete, ‘Murr’ (Conor Murray), they’ve waited a long, long time for this.

“It’s incredible for the province, the whole squad and not just the lads who were out there today. The boys that didn’t get selected today who put in incredible shifts.

“I’ve only been back for the last three games. There’s been lads that have come over to South Africa that got us into the position that we were in, they gave us a fortunate enough chance to go into the quarter-finals.

“Even the boys back home who prepared us unbelievably well for all these fixtures. It’s unbelievable. It’s not going to hit us yet, but when it does it’s going to be an incredible feeling.”

Beirne experienced PRO12 success with the Scarlets in 2017, helping them to beat his current team 46-22 at the Aviva Stadium, but it has been a tough road to winning another league title, both personally and in terms of Munster’s long wait.

The Munstermen lost the 2021 PRO14 final to Leinster, having also been beaten by Glasgow Warriors in the 2015 decider. The recent Johann van Graan era also saw them suffer two Heineken Champions Cup semi-final defeats.

Former England and British & Irish Lions prop Rowntree stepped up this season into the head coach role, and while they struggled for results early on and shipped some big scores, Munster certainly came good when it mattered most.

Beirne’s timely return from the ankle injury that disrupted his Six Nations campaign with Ireland saw him play his part in those URC play-off victories over Glasgow (14-5) and table toppers Leinster (16-15), before their silverware-winning finish in South Africa.

Doing it the ‘hard way’, with their last six games all being away from home, makes this achievement all the more remarkable for Rowntree’s charges, the vast majority of whom are Greencore Munster Academy graduates.

Beirne gave some insight into how they managed to go from scrapping to secure Champions Cup qualification to toppling three of the leading sides and lifting the URC ‘Array’ cup at the DHL Stadium.

“It comes from the coaching staff from the get-go. I think from day one they’ve come in and set a plan in place,” explained the Kildare man.

Even when the start of the season wasn’t going our way, ‘Wig’ (Rowntree) said from the start that we have to believe in what we’re doing, we have to believe that we’re going to get better and that we’ve got to stick to the plan.

“Everyone bought into that. It’s not just been the last couple of weeks, it’s been from the very start of the season. We’ve built a culture within the squad where everyone believes.

“It might have taken a bit longer than they (the coaches) might have hoped for us to find our feet in terms of shape and, defensively, the way we wanted to play. But they never doubted us for a second.

“For a long, long time, not one person in our squad went into a game where we felt like we were going to lose, and that’s a credit to the coaching staff and all the staff back home that helped to instil that belief in us.”

Having bounced back from Manie Libbok’s early intercept try, Munster controlled most of the first half and deserved to be further in front than 12-7. They had two tries ruled out, with Gavin Coombes penalised for a double movement and O’Mahony’s pass to Mike Haley ruled forward.

Despite losing the lead when Stormers flanker Deon Fourie crossed from a maul, the visitors showed immense composure to put John Hodnett over in the 74th minute – Jack Crowley nailed a superb conversion – and their physicality in defence was rewarded right at the death.

“We had a scrum on the halfway (line) and I turned to the forwards and said, ‘We will get one chance, we’ll get one chance. Just stay in it’,” admitted Beirne, referencing the time when Munster were trailing 14-12.

“Gav had an unbelievable block-down and we got it. Credit to everyone, we stuck to the gameplan. Everyone worked incredibly hard and we did a good job to get over, it was massive.

“I did ask the boys to leave the rucks for the last ten minutes. I don’t think the backs listened too carefully to me in the end!

“It’s incredible fight to stop a team like the Stormers around one of their strongest assets in terms of the maul, to keep them out there at the end was unbelievable fight by everyone.”

While the scoreline was close in the end and Munster lost out 13-5 on the penalty count, they were the better team in some key areas – securing 60% possession and 57% territory, along with a massive 34 defenders beaten, 91% tackle success, six kicks retained and seven turnovers won.

The breakdown was a crucial battleground as ever, and Beirne acknowledged: “We had a massive emphasis on that all week and the past few weeks. I think it’s been a massive strongpoint of our game, the breakdown.

“I think that helped lead us into this week. I think every team we’ve played in the last couple of weeks has been very strong around getting turnovers. It’s a credit to the work done by the coaching staff in preparing us, it was a massive focus.”

The 31-year-old also highlighted some similarities between Munster’s title-winning run and his prior one with the Scarlets, noting that both set-ups had ‘massive momentum and that feeling where you just don’t think you’re going to lose’.

It is a feeling that Beirne and his team-mates will want to hold on to heading into Rowntree’s second year in charge, but for now they can enjoy the hard-earned celebrations which will continue at this evening’s Homecoming event at Thomond Park.

Summing up what it means to him to win that long-awaited trophy in the red of Munster, he added: “I’m with Munster for five years now and I didn’t think it would be this difficult to get to where we are today.

“We’ve had opportunities and unfortunately we have come up short over the last few years, but to have won something with this team finally, it’s hard to put into words. To be able to be part of it, I’m just absolutely delighted.”