The Cape Crusaders: Meet the Munster fans travelling 6,200 miles for domestic URC final
Every fan dreams of watching their team make a final and, hopefully, win a trophy. But imagine if the grand finale for your domestic league is 6,200 miles away from your home stadium. Well that’s exactly what faces fans of Irish province Munster, whose United Rugby Championship showdown on Saturday is a 17-hour plane journey from Limerick – in Cape Town, South Africa.
Why? Well, the URC is complicated to explain but, in short, South African sides have been grafted onto a traditionally European competition and managed to be the highest ranked seed come the final in both of their participating years.
Bunking off school
Unlike rugby in England or France – or most elite football – the stadium hosting the final is now known until late in the season, when the highest ranked finalist has been determined. For the second year running it is the Stormers.
Around 2,000 tickets were allocated to Munster Rugby and the 55,000 seat stadium in Cape Town sold out within three hours. It is estimated that 5,000 Munster fans will descend on the South African capital.
Tickets were as cheap as £3.34 (R80) – about half a pint – with Category A tickets only around £15. One fan told City A.M. that he paid less than £100 for lounge hospitality which includes food and drink. No wonder that particular fan is planning a stay in Dubai to spend their saved pennies on the way back if Munster win.
“My son is 13 and has never had that feeling of a cup win with Munster,” said another gallivanter supporter, Oonagh, whose 13-year-old child James was set to bunk off school until he blabbed to his friends and PE teacher.
“I did not want him to miss the opportunity to share in the experience. He will miss a couple of days of school but I think the impact will be minimal.
”He will not remember all the times his mum was sensible but will always remember that time his mum took him out of school to go to a Munster final in Cape Town!”
Munster travel in force
Last year’s final was in the same stadium, against the Bulls in front of 31,000 fans in the first play-off final match in the competition’s history to not include an Irish side.
Munster will restore Irish representation on Saturday in what is set to be the most well attended final in the competition’s history – the previous best was 47,125 at Celtic Park for the 2019 clash between Glasgow and Leinster.
A supporter account, Three Red Kings, and members of the account’s “Secret Club” have paid for four fans, Patricia, Serena, Keelan and Gearoid, to attend the final.
Fans donated in their dozens on the grounds that the quartet were present at both the quarter and semi final wins, and therefore must be lucky charms.
“We’ve not planned too much for while we’re there, we’re looking to just go with the flow and explore a new city, but we’ll definitely be heading up Table Mountain and out to Robben Island, as well as to some of the many restaurants and bars that have been suggested to us by Stormers supporters,” Patricia said.
“As for the ticket prices, I absolutely love it. I think ticket prices in general can be quite scandalous, but I don’t see why, as a supporter or otherwise, you wouldn’t rather see and hear a packed out stadium. Our tickets were €18.”
The club, in partnership with Rugby Travel Ireland, offered a package spanning five days and including a chartered flight, activities with the club and tickets, priced at €2,295 (£1,995) per person sharing or €895 (£778) without flights. The package sold out.
Durban to Glasgow to Cape Town
Niamh is going on the arranged trip. “It isn’t my first rodeo between the URC and Champions Cup this season,” she said. “I have been to Northampton, Toulouse, Durban, Glasgow, Dublin and now Cape Town. It’s great camaraderie and craic.”
Gearoid – one of the paid-for four – added: “Category A tickets for under €20 is nuts but we certainly aren’t complaining.
“I’ve been to Cape Town before on a rugby tour, so have done some of the main attractions. I don’t think the South Africans have experienced what the Red Army is like at its peak.”
It’s an astonishing feat to get such a number to the Cape of Good Hope at just a fortnight’s notice. Incredibly cheap tickets have been a motivator, but the atmosphere expected to be generated from 55,000 fans will undoubtedly have been a persuasive argument.
While some believe the URC is on borrowed time, this weekend could prove those doubters wrong – despite some worries, like those of Gearoid, surrounding the sustainability of the event, both financially and environmentally.
But the match on Saturday comes with a warning from the supporters group who organised the adventure of four of their members. “If Munster lose? Off to the mountain with them.” No pressure, then.