Rassie Erasmus sizes up physical challenge of Castres

Coach expects hard-hitting contest up front in Munster’s Champions Cup opener in France

Munster’s Rassie Erasmus has an encyclopedic knowledge of Top 14 sides simply because future role as South Africa’s coach demands it. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Hearing Rassie Erasmus extol the might of Castres you are reminded he was once a Springbok flanker. The quotes could read like an intimidated coach entering the rarely sacked Stade Pierre-Antoine but the 45-year-old sounds like a craftsman who enjoys analysing the enormity of each new assault.

“They have a massive physical pack,” says Erasmus. “They maul really well, in one specific style, you can see they believe in that.

“They enjoy scrumming. You can see it. They spend two, three minutes at one spot. Resetting and resetting and when they get it going they get a massive scrum going. Big carrying forwards with big moments at the breakdown.

“I think it is going to be a massive shift for our forwards containing theirs and they’ve got a fullback [Julien Dumora] with top line breaks. And then they’ve got a lot of attacking kicks that they try so it is not your typical Racing or one of those big French teams. They mix it up.”

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It makes sense that Jean Kleyn and Simon Zebo are being rushed back into the Munster team on Sunday.

“It is going to be a rugby field with a lot of big men running at you, we are going to have to handle that.”

Erasmus is correct; Castres are not the typical French side. For one, they are more French than foreign led. Their captain Rodrigo Capó Ortega may be a Uruguayan but he’s part of the furniture after 15 years there. They only have two South Africans – centre Robert Ebersohn and hooker Jody Jenneker – who Erasmus is well versed on, even during this brief hiatus from running Springbok rugby.

Daniel Kötze, the tighthead, is French-qualified via residency. Same goes for returning scrumhalf Rory Kockott. "There is [Samoan] David Smith on the wing but apart from that there is a lot of French players, and I find them the tougher teams to play against."

Erasmus has an encyclopedic knowledge of Top 14 sides simply because his past and future role demands it. A mass exodus of South African rugby players has landed in France. And, as the Munster revival has shown, he is a life long student of rugby.

“I’ve never been out of the game since I stopped playing – when was it? – in 2004. I went straight into coaching so I played against or coached some of them who are now playing [in France]. Yeah, most of them I would know.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent