Rassie Erasmus: ‘Maybe this was just a step too far’ for Munster
Director of rugby believes his players have come a long way in turbulent season on and off pitch
Munster’s Keith Earls and his daughters Ella May and Laurie after the game. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
This was shaping into a fantastic season for Irish rugby. Then came a weekend in April when Saracens strangled Munster into submission before Clermont electrocuted Leinster.
No worries. Champions Cup semi-finals are decent returns so long as the Pro 12 delivers a trophy that confirms the domestic dominance of the provinces.
Not so. Scarlets offered their blueprint to Munster at the RDS.
Beating Leinster on the outer edges with well drilled catching, passing and thrilling speed.
They repeated the trick here.
“We were never going to change the way we play,” said Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac.
There was shuddering disappointment from Leinster and while Munster’s chieftain Rassie Erasmus bemoaned the average nature of this performance he felt that mentally they rebounded off their ceiling in season one of the Erasmus project.
“Maybe this is just where we are. This team has gone through a lot this year, on and off the field, maybe this was just a step too far.”
A theory was put to the 44-year-old South African that Irish players will always struggle to regain peak performance after exiting Europe, especially with the looming Lions or Ireland tours silently pleading for them to protect their bodies.
“It was not difficult to get the boys up for this,” said Erasmus. “We must accept that 12 months ago we were not even close to getting to a playoff. We were sixth or seventh and trying to get into Europe.
“You can only grow so much in a year. We hoped for this game we had grown enough to win a cup. But we didn’t.
“Take the emotions away – and they won’t for two or three weeks– because this will hurt for a while. A player can only so grow so much on the field and mentally.”
For Peter O’Mahony it can only hurt for a few hours before he must harness it into a quest to feature in a Test match against the All Blacks (something he did not achieve last year). A 7am flight to Heathrow awaits for the captain, CJ Stander and Conor Murray (joined by Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies).
So, this end reflects reality.
“And we have to be realistic about that,” Erasmus added. “We played in a final and got thumped but we know where we came from since last year.”
The day will forever remain sweet for one Irish man.
“We came here and all the Irish media gave us absolutely no chance,”said Tadhg Beirne. “All the talk was about Munster, Munster, Munster.
“It was the same last week with Leinster. Each and every one of us knew we could come here and get the win. We absolutely delivered tonight.”
Beirne was cut loose by Leinster early last season but a recommendation by Lansdowne coach Mike Ruddock, a Welshman, saw the Scarlets pick him up on the cheap.
“It more or less was the last chance saloon to be honest. Didn’t sign until late May so to come here, to get the opportunity around November to get to play, I honestly didn’t think I’d be here and now I’m a Pro 12 champion. I can’t believe it.”
Beirne just signed a one-year extension to stay in Llanelli while Erasmus flicks through the Currie Cup locking catalogue in search of another South African lock to replace Donnacha Ryan.