Rassie Erasmus exit from Munster a major blow for province
New coach will have to understand tight restrictions and fit in with Schmidt philosophy
Munster head coach Rassie Erasmus will leave the province in January to take up the of position rugby director with the Springboks. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
The speculation surrounding the move back to South Africa had been swirling for months before Munster confirmed on Thursday that Erasmus will take up the position of director of rugby with the Springboks at the end of the year with Nienaber going with him.
The Erasmus brief is a broad one as he will head up coaching in the country, oversee the running of the eight national teams, and management of 20 competitions as well as the development of players, coaches and referees.
There is no getting away from the fact that the two are scarcely replaceable although, Munster now have six months to go to market, interview and recruit.
“Munster Rugby and the IRFU can today confirm that director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber are set to depart the province at the end of December,” said Munster in a statement.
Given the choreography and sequence of questions and denials about whether he was or wasn’t leaving, Munster will have already begun to sound out possibilities.
Staying on until December
In practical terms Erasmus staying on until December means that there is no panic in the province to arrive at an immediate solution with coaching jobs in the southern hemisphere arising after the Super Rugby season ends in August and when the Rugby Championship finishes in October.
“It’s probably part of the terms and conditions of the break clause,” said a rugby agent. “It is unusual and you would have thought the end of the season is the time to leave. But in the meantime Munster are not under massive pressure and why would they release him now if they have no solution.”
The move for Nienaber means South Africa could be a defensive coach too many as Brendan Venter is currently contracted as a consultant to Springbok coach Allister Coetzee.
Although Ronan O’Gara has said he would like to return to Munster, his inexperience as an overseer would run against him. Similarly Paul O’Connell, who has dipped his toe into coaching, would be seen as being too green.
Munster will remember that Erasmus came in to assist the late Anthony Foley as did Stuart Lancaster in Leinster with Leo Cullen in charge. In the past former Irish coach Eddie O’Sullivan and interim Irish coach Michael Bradley, now with Georgia, have not been the right fit.
Former Bath and Ireland coach Mike Ford was available after leaving Toulon but recently signed with US team Dallas Griffins. More germane to the issue is who will be available in January 2017 not now.
Not going to stand in his way
“We have been in this position before, whereby our coach has been offered a national role and we are not going to stand in the way of someone in that regard,” said Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald. “We understand Rassie’s decision, and all parties are working together in managing the situation.
“I believe we are in a positive place and I don’t think there will be any doubts around what we can achieve and go on to do. We’ll continue to learn from both coaches and progress.”
Any coach coming in would also have to understand the tight restrictions of the job and fit in with Joe Schmidt’s philosophy.
The IRFU pull the financial strings and while an ambitious Munster would be an attractive destination, the constraints of player management and the national team requirements has been a source of deep frustration for a number of coaches that have come through the Irish system.
Erasmus, who played 36 Tests for the Springboks from 1997-2001, joined Munster in April 2016 and has won 26 of his 32 games in charge.