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Munster a second home for South Africans

SPOTLIGHT: Supporters don’t need an introduction to Munster because the international connection is so strong.

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This season’s United Rugby Championship league winners and host semifinalists, versus Scotland’s Glasgow Warriors, have a particular stronghold in South Africa because so many South African players and significant coaches have worn the famed red of this rich rugby region.

Whether it be Limerick or Cork, Munster is known and acknowledged globally.

Consider this: 36 Munster players have represented the British and Irish Lions in the history of rugby. Since rugby turned professional in 1996, 59 foreign players have worn the Munster red, and 17 have come from South Africa.

Munster internationally has always been known. The 12-6 win against the All Blacks in 1976 put the province on the global map for life, but in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, the four countries that make up the Rugby Championship down south, Munster has always had a flavour because of the international integration into Munster.

Former Springbok captain and brilliant midfielder Jean de Villiers went to Munster. So did his Springbok midfield partner Damian de Allende. Former Sharks backs Shaun Payne and Trevor Halstead were inspirational for Munster when they conquered Europe in the early 2000s.

Springbok prop BJ Botha, capped 25 times for South Africa, played 111 matches for Munster and is considered an icon of the province. CJ Stander was a giant No.8 for Munster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions over a decade.

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Former Bulls and Stormers wing Gerhard van den Heever spent three seasons at Munster, flank Chris Cloete did five years, Bok utility back Jaco Taute did his final three years there and Wian du Preez, Gerbrandt Grobler, Bok lock Jason Jenkins and Bok No.8 Arno Botha also wore Munster red.

Springbok locks RG Snyman and Jean Kleyn were colossal for Munster when they won the URC against the Stormers in Cape Town in the 2022/23 season and beyond the playing arena World Cup-winning Springbok coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have consistently described their 18 months at Munster as coaches as the most pivotal moments in their coaching career.

The duo won 22 of their first 26 matches post arrival and Erasmus was named Pro Rugby Coach of the Year.

Erasmus and Nienaber would arrive in Munster in 2016 and leave at the end of 2017 to take charge of a Springboks squad that would win successive World Cups in 2019 and 2023.

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Both speak with reverence about the Munster experience and Erasmus refers to Munster as a rugby spiritual home.

When Munster beat the Cape Town-based Stormers in the 2022/23 URC Final, Erasmus said if any team was to beat a South African team in a final, the blow could only be softened if it was Munster.

Erasmus spoke of his love for Munster’s people, of his respect for the history of the province and of his absolute delight in how the people live and how they embrace a team to the point that weekends are not rugby matches but a coming together of the community.

Whether that occasion was in Limerick, at Thomond Park, or at Musgrave Park in Cork, the belief was in the red of Munster.

Erasmus, in so many media interviews, has reiterated his pride in being able to say he coached Munster.

Erasmus and Nienaber loved their time at Munster. Their South African successor Johann van Graan, now the coach of Bath in the English Premiership, was as vocal about his emotions on coaching Munster.

South African players, who have represented Munster give thanks to the community within the Munster region for making them feel like they were Munster born and bred.

Former Bok captain, De Villiers said of his cameo at Munster that it would always be a highlight of life.

The foreign love also extends beyond South Africans.

The iconic All Black fullback Christian Cullen said his only regret was that his fragile knees and shattered shoulders could not consistently deliver on his Test reputation for Munster.

Fellow All Black back three try-scoring machine Doug Howlett was as immense in Munster red as he was in New Zealand black. He is considered more Munster than Kiwi, such is his love for the province. Such was his success on the field.

There is such respect for Munster in South Africa, and when players internationally talk about the provinces and clubs that sit at the top table, Munster is always mentioned.

Erasmus described Munster as a team with a deep-rooted culture and a sense of community rarely seen elsewhere. Erasmus repeatedly has said that matches at Thomond Park are not just about rugby but are occasions that bring the city of Limerick to life and unite Munster.

If you win against Munster, in Munster, be it in Limerick or Cork, you will be acknowledged for the win and later on when in the town you will be celebrated as one of the Red Army, out of respect for conquering the red jersey.

The rugby people of Munster love their team, but they also admire any team that can be victorious in their backyard.

Glasgow’s Warriors will be given that respect, before and after kick-off, because Munster’s supporters know theirs is a team that players want to play against, to measure themselves, and it is also a team that history has shown foreigners want to play for.

Munster were incredible in winning on the road in last season’s URC, ending the Stormers’ home streak at the Cape Town Stadium in the league and then returning to do the season double over the Stormers 19-14 in the Grand Final in Cape Town in front of 56 300.

They were magnificent in winning against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld this season to secure top billing in the league, and this is the challenge that awaits the Warriors in Limerick.

To beat Munster at home, you must play more than 23 players.

Respect to any team that beats Munster in Munster. Respect to Munster and their red army of supporters.

In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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