On paper, the Stormers had arguably the toughest fixture of the weekend for the four South African franchises in the United Rugby Championship.
On Saturday night in Limerick, however, John Dobson’s men delivered a scintillating first-half performance that threatened to stun Irish giants Munster.
It was not to be, though, and the momentum from the first 40 minutes could not be sustained.
In the end, the Stormers were beaten 34-18 having led 15-7 at half-time.
Perhaps they were motivated by the Springbok heroics earlier in the day, but the men in blue found a gear in the opening period that suggests all is not lost on this European journey.
The Lions (36-13 v Scarlets), Bulls (34-7 v Connacht) and the Sharks (35-24 v Glasgow) had all lost before the Stormers kicked off, and few would have given the Capetonians much of a chance following their disappointing loss to Italy’s Benetton last weekend.
Captained by Salmaan Moerat, the Stormers were fast out the blocks.
Dobson has always been vocal on the desire for his side to play attractive, running rugby and there were real strides shown in that regard here.
Munster looked shell-shocked at times while the Stormers were fearless, showing enterprise from all parts of the field.
The visitors’ off-loading game was on point in that first half, and that gave them the continuity to hit the Munster defence with wave after wave after attack that was easy on the eye.
Manie Libbok and Warrick Gelant were linking beautifully, and that was the combination that gave the Stormers their first try on 9 minutes when the former broke through and off-loaded to the latter.
The Stormers were at it again on 20 minutes when Ruhan Nel broke down the left and delivered yet another neat off-load, this time to wing Leolin Zas who showed wonderful feet and impressive pace to finish off the move.
Libbok converted this time – he had missed a penalty and a conversion beforehand – and the Stormers had a deserved 12-0 lead.
A quite stunning phase of energy and keeping the ball alive then saw Libbok go over, but the try was disallowed when replays showed the playmaker had lost control of the ball in the tackle.
Gelant did knock over a penalty shortly afterwards – Libbok was relieved of the kicking duties – and the Stormers were 15-0 up.
As impressive as the Stormers were with ball in hand, they were equally so defensively where Munster were being driven back in contact.
Nama Xaba, too, was having a big game with his work on the ground.
Eventually, well after the first-half hooter had sounded, Munster got their joy when Jack O’Donoghue went crashing over to get his side on the scoreboard.
It took over 40 minutes for that Stormers wall to break, but just 15-7 up at the break, the South Africans knew they had a lot of work left to do to get over the line and record a famous win.
That didn’t happen.
Things start awfully in the second half when Moerat was yellow-carded on 43 minutes for dangerously contesting in a lineout, and the following 10 minutes with 14 were costly for the Stormers as they conceded twice.
First, former Stormers lock Jean Kleyn went crashing over from close range before hooker Niall Scannell scored from a dominant rolling maul to give Munster the lead for the first time in the match at 19-15.
Dobson, somewhat surprisingly, pulled off Libbok for Tim Swiel as the Stormers tried to find some of that penetration they had in the opening period, but there was only ever one team in the second half.
O’Donoghue had his second and Munster’s fourth on 56 minutes, and while a Swiel penalty narrowed the gap to 24-18, that hope was short-lived before 2019 World Cup winner RG Snyman went barging over for Munster’s fifth.
31-18 down with 10 minutes to play, the Stormers had no answers. They were so impressive for the first half of the game, but so clearly outplayed for the rest.
The final play of the game saw Munster’s Ben Healy kick a 55m penalty.
Munster 34 (7)
Tries: Jack O’Donoghue (2), Jean Kleyn, Nial Scannell, RG Snyman
Conversions: Juey Carbery (2), Ben Healy (2)
Stormers 18 (15)
Tries: Sergeal Petersen, Leolin Zas
Conversion: Manie Libbok
Penalties: Warrick Gelant, Tim Swiel
15 Mike Haley, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Shane Daly, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Gavin Coombes, 7 Jack O’Donoghue, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Fineen Wycherley, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Keynan Knox, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Substitutes: 16 Diarmuid Barron, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Stephen Archer, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jack O’Sullivan, 21 Rowan Osborne, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Simon Zebo.
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Willie Engelbrecht, 6 Nama Xaba, 5 Salmaan Moerat, 4 Adre Smith, 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Brok Harris
Substitutes: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Ernst van Rhyn, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Rikus Pretorius