Rassie Erasmus news softens blow of exit for Munster
Coach’s decision to stay put for another two years provides huge boost for province
The Springboks tangled political system is responsible for the exile of Rassie Erasmus. Allowing the finest coach of coaches in South Africa to leave offered Munster the ideal candidate to create the much needed director of rugby position in Limerick.
The presumption was that Alistair Coetzee, despite a CV punctured by inexperience, would be a better option to coach the Springboks than his former boss. Coetzee, it was hoped, would prove defeat to Japan at the 2015 World Cup, along with hundreds of gargantuan forwards streaming into European leagues, would not send South African rugby into free fall.
Erasmus fully intends to coach the country that capped him 36 times, again. Despite beginning a three-year Munster contract last July, he engaged in overtures from the SARU when they recognised the foolishness of their ways by letting him journey north in the first place. Being the man he is, the 44-year-old spoke honestly about the situation. He converses with coaches and officials in South Africa – both formally and informally – on a regular basis.
When a decision needed to be made – to stay or go – Erasmus realised he had unfinished business in Ireland. So, a few weeks ago, he sat amongst these young Munster players to tell them that he, along with his junior partner Jacques Nienaber – seemingly a deal breaker in Erasmus negotiations wherever he roams – would not be going home.
“They’ve just done such a great job,” said Munster hooker Niall Scannell after this 26-10 defeat to Saracens. “It would have been a huge blow if they did leave because he’s such a good coach. His forward planning is unbelievable.
“Sometimes I wonder does he have a crystal ball. We were watching Northampton and Saracens last week and Northampton were going really well and he said ‘60 minutes now, this is where Saracens are going turn the screw’ and it was like he had seen the future. That’s exactly what they did. We were prepared for that today but found it hard to counteract.”
On Saturday evening the media sought clarification from Erasmus.
“Yes . . . Hopefully. We are trying to create the winning culture...”
So you are staying for the next two seasons?
“Yes, yes, yes.”
Definitely staying Rassie?
Erasmus has already carved open a new chapter in Munster’s history. Until Saturday’s comprehensive defeat, it seemed like this unbelievable nine-month journey – since tragedy in Paris – would finish with European glory.
Conor Murray’s absence shows there remains an over-reliance on certain figures. And that genuine, lasting success takes time. As it did for the previous generation who lost European finals in 2000 and 2002 before Anthony Foley lifted the trophy in 2006.
But time, now, is something Erasmus has committed to forging.
“There is a saying in South Africa that a diamond gets formed out of coal when it gets under pressure,” he said. “If you don’t feel this pressure week in week out and learn how to handle it . . . I really think our players are good enough, and the coaching team is good enough. I just think you have to get through weeks like this.
“I saw Saracens get through weeks like this, when they lost in the semi and in the final.
“There are many elements we need to improve upon but the biggest is feeling the pressure, when the game is turning, knowing how to handle that. Against the double champions we weren’t able to handle that.”
John Ryan, the newly established tighthead, summed it up best: “Things have changed. He has given us freedom to play the way we want to play. There is a great positive vibe around the squad. Everyone knows what we are doing. There are a group of players there who will be there for, fingers crossed, five, six, seven years. If we are going to take anything positive out of this . . . playing against a pack with five Lions in it and I’m up against one of them. It lets me know what I need to get to, and the pack needs to get to. We probably caved a bit under the pressure today.”