Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has addressed the uncertainty surrounding the final months of his term, but says he will step aside earlier than his December date of departure if asked, writes Stephen Barry.
The province’s priority is finding a replacement for Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienbar, which may mean the South Africa-bound duo may step aside in the coming months, or at different times.
“The way the whole conversation went with Garrett (Fitzgerald, Munster CEO) and David (Nucifora, IRFU performance director), it was never a case of Jacques and I staying for exactly six or nine months, or whatever.
“The priority is finding the right replacement and if that means us staying until October, November or December, so be it, it’s an open discussion.
“I will coach and do my very best for as long as I am here, but if they find a replacement coach tomorrow and say I must go tomorrow, then I will go.
“Depending on appointments we may leave at different times, him before me or vice versa. December at this stage is the ideal goal as we feel it will give everyone enough time to prepare, but that is open for discussion.
“We understand that we are in the middle of a contract and Munster are graciously helping us so anything we can do to facilitate Munster we will do.”
Erasmus will become the SARU’s director of rugby from 2018 on, while Nienaber will join him in their home country as a high performance coach.
Erasmus, however, will not be directly involved in recruiting his successor at Munster.
“My opinion will be asked if I know the guy, if I coached against the guy. That would be the level of my involvement. I will not be sitting in on any interviews.
“My focus is more on the start of the PRO14 and Europe. I know we have a better squad than last year and we have grown as a team, but that must be reflected on the field, so that will be my only challenge, and priority, until we get on the plane.”
Dealing with the Munster squad between now and the end of his tenure, Erasmus believes, isn’t completely different to the uncertainty they faced last year.
Plus, he has already handed more direct responsibility to forwards coach Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones, the backline and attack coach.
“Leaving midseason can cause some uncertainty, but to a degree there was uncertainty as well last season, ‘who are these guys, where are they coming from, how will they handle it?’.
“The squad went on to have a great season and we went on to bolster the squad in all the positions that we had to.
“We’ve got a stronger squad heading into next season and Jerry and Felix are fully on board with what we are trying to do.
“We have planned it very carefully, we are aligning the systems with coaches, players and Garrett so that whenever the departure comes the transition is smooth.
“For example, rather than me doing certain duties we have handed them over to Felix and Jerry now and they are overseen by me. Players then get used to that and it should make things easier for a new coach coming in.”
Speaking for the first time about the process which lead to him leaving Munster, Erasmus insisted he always made Munster aware of his international coaching ambitions.
“I, and my family, moved to Limerick not knowing what was ahead of us, it was a challenge I was both nervous and excited about, and the experience has exceeded any of my expectations. However, in making the decision to move I always said that one day I would like to coach the Springboks if the opportunity arose.
“The squad have always been the priority for me, and with regards the players I told them that I had wanted to be involved with the Springboks eventually. I said ‘at this stage it is not a reality, but one day if it comes, I will definitely take that opportunity.’ It then became a reality earlier than I thought it would.
“I said the same to Garrett (Fitzgerald) and David (Nucifora), my employers, on an informal basis, saying that one day I would like to go back and be involved with the Springboks. I asked would they stand in my way if I went to, not an opposition team, but an international team, and knowing where we all stood we continued to work together, understanding what may come down the line. As discussions then got more serious all eventualities were being looked at.
“In June South Africa Rugby confirmed how the newly created position would work and when I spoke to Garrett and David they confirmed they wouldn’t stand in my way. It was a national job, a wonderful opportunity and not with an opposition team. That was the spirit in which it was handled and both management and players understand the reason for leaving.
“Had I known earlier last season that I was definitely going to leave I would have said so, but to say so then would have been lying.”