Simon Zebo: Munster not ‘going to let this be the full stop’
Rassie Erasmus admits ‘mental flexibility or toughness’ needed in heat of semi-final
Munster’s Simon Zebo with his son Jacob after the European Champions Cup, semi-final match against Saracens at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA Wire
Proud that Munster had made it through to the last four of European rugby but disappointed that the fans went home with little other than thoughts of the Pro 12 and how much its worth has now risen in Munster eyes.
That and a strong sense of the stoic coloured the mood after Saracens squeezed Munster out of the European Champions Cup. There were no obvious tears, no frustrations or regrets. A sense of loss yes, but also a sharp lesson on how far Munster are from again realising their dream of continental dominance.
“We played against a team that were better than us. That’s a reality. Even though there were stages that were closer – 6-3 – and we had a few opportunities, I thought the scoreboard was a true reflection of the game,” said Munster’s South African coach Rassie Erasmus.
“That’s the way Saracens play. Not just applying pressure but absorbing pressure and finishing you off in the last 15 or 20 minutes. That’s been the story line this season against all teams and they did the same against us.”
With that stark reality also came hope for the future. No team ever walks away from such a defeat without taking something of use with them. Munster are no different.
“Pride that we got this far,” added Erasmus about his feelings on the day. “How many teams are there in Europe? I guess 20. We did better than 16 of the teams that played but we could not go past that final two hurdles.
“I think the disappointment is more for the supporters. But then we have to be realistic. This is the reality we only got this far. We are 15 or 20 points behind Saracens.”
Simon Zebo also sought comfort from the future of the squad rather than dwelling on the disappointment of defeat. That, said the Munster fullback, was the squad’s view.
A semi-final against Saracens was reaching a certain point along the road and there is more to travel.
“I think we are at the start of a period together with this new squad that we have and we are very excited even though today is really, really disappointing and hard to take,” said Zebo.
“But we know that there is a bright future with this squad and we said on the pitch afterwards that we were not going to let this be the full stop but that we are really going to drive on as a collective and make sure our future is bright.”
Erasmus really didn’t see Munster winning this match against a side like Saracens, who are looking towards again doing the Premiership and European double.
“We could have done many things differently in this game but at the end of the day I think they would have given us the same hiding they did today,” said the Munster coach, adding that the squad may have had the physical equipment to compete with Saracens but at this stage of their development, not the mental flexibility or toughness.
“There is a saying in South Africa that a diamond gets formed from coal when it is under pressure,” added Erasmus.
“If you don’t feel this pressure and feel it week in, week out and know how to handle it . . .
“I really think our players are good enough and I think the coaching team is good enough. I just think you have to get through weeks like this and it takes time.
“I thought before this game we had a little, small chance. There are many elements we were missing. But the biggest thing was the mental, the heat and the pressure and things that are turning against you and how to handle that.
“But against the double champions in both Europe and the Premiership we weren’t able to handle that today.”
Mark McCall, the Saracens coach had no preference for who he wanted to meet in the final, Leinster or Clermont. The former Irish centre chose diplomacy.
“Clermont have been there and there for years and you think it is going to happen for them at some point,” said McCall.
“When they have their full team out they are an unbelievable handful – they have got strengths throughout.
“Leinster – their improvement from last year in Europe has been extraordinary. They have always had good players but they have got a really good thing going.
“They have got a brilliant midfield, some young guys who are really making their mark and they seem to have a real confidence in the organisation and obviously Stuart Lancaster has made a massive difference.”