‘Tactically we were 50-60% but we were 100% maximising our guts’
Rassie Erasmus hails Munster’s gritty performance, but concedes it was far from perfect
Back-to-back wins on successive Saturdays away to the reigning French champions and their Pro12 final conquerors of two seasons ago leave Munster in rude health. This smash-and-grab raid was as compelling in its own way, and would have been as eminently satisfying for Munster as their Paris victory on their retreat back from Glasgow.
Again beaming with pride, Rassie Erasmus hailed the guts and defensive workrate of his players, while conceding that this had been a far-from-perfect performance. They have the potential to be significantly better.
“If you look at tonight’s performance, tactically we didn’t maximise our performance. We have two left-footed players in the team with Zeebs and Scans,” he said, in reference to full-back Simon Zebo and centre Rory Scannell, “and we’ve got [the right-footed] Tyler [Bleyendaal] and Conor [Murray], yet we just sat in our own half and Glasgow pinned us down. So, potential is not just individual, it’s strategic as a team and as a management team making and executing a plan. Tonight, probably tactically we were only 50-60 per cent there, but then again we were 100 per cent maximising our guts.”
“It wasn’t tactically a great game from us, but then the last 10/15 minutes when it counted there were a few try-scoring opportunities when I think Francis Saili – before the try he scored –was nearly through, Duncan [Williams] was really close and then when Andrew [Conway] went for the corner flag. So, the last 10/15 minutes we were probably the stronger team, but tactically overall it wasn’t great but it was enjoyable.”
“The defence was good, but I thought our breakdown wasn’t great at stages. I thought our tactical kicking wasn’t great and I thought when we did get into their half we didn’t get the points when we were there. We were there four or five times in the first-half and we only got six points. When the big moments are there you don’t get a lot of chances, and in the quarter-finals again you will only get a few moments, so when you get there you can’t come away without three, five or seven points. So those big moments in this game almost cost us.”
Once again Munster were indebted to their vastly improved defence since the arrival of Erasmus and his defensive assistant Jacques Nienaber, although the director of rugby stressed this was a collective effort, both on and off the pitch.
“I think Jacques Nienaber and Felix [Jones] and those guys all coach together. It’s not just one defensive coach. One links into the other, the kicking game, the lineout and the mauling. It all links into the defence, but I think the bottom line is a bunch of players led by Peter O’Mahony who believe in the defensive system, and I think the moment you believe in something you trust it, so I think belief is probably the biggest thing.”
Nor was Erasmus taking any credit for the grittiness of this Munster outfit, which in truth has always been an innate trait, even if it is now back in bucket-loads.
“It’s definitely not me. It’s a team where why would you just sit back and hope for something? You put up your hand and try something. I think that’s what Peter is pushing into the team and I think that’s what all the other coaches are pushing. If you just sit back and hope you will win the game, you probably will lose it, and the guys put up their hands even when they make mistakes. I think it’s player-driven, which is great.”
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“The players did well, and they deserve credit but I can see in their eyes they know that come Monday we will be playing Racing next week and some guys are going to be going into Ireland international games, and the guys are talking about how we mustn’t lose our cohesiveness when we get back [after the Six Nations]. And we’ve then got Pro12 in the meantime. The boys are definitely not looking at this and saying something is achieved. It is something achieved, but the target is a little bit further.”
Gregor Townsend generously conceded that the better team had won, saying of Munster: “They are a quality side, one of the best in Europe.” But he still believed that a win away to Leicester next Saturday could be enough to steer the Warriors into the last eight for the first time.
“We’re on 14 points now and 18 would get us second in the pool. When you look at the other pools, others can’t get to that figure. We obviously have to win to have a chance of qualifying. Tonight was an opportunity, the first time we could have qualified at round five. We were disappointed not to win, but next week will be another huge occasion.”