Outgoing Munster head coach Rassie Erasmus yesterday held what may be one of his last press conferences at the UL High Performance Centre yesterday.
He reflected on the highs and lows of his time with the province before he returns home to take up the role of Director of Rugby at the South African Rugby Union.
He made no secret of how much he has enjoyed his time at Munster and readily admits how difficult it will be for him to depart in a few weeks.
The sudden death of Anthony Foley a few hours before a scheduled European Cup match in Paris just over 12 months ago hit the South African hard.
“Axel’s death was the saddest time. For two or three weeks I felt the sorriest for myself, selfishly,” he said. “I thought that was something to handle. But then again it was one of the times where I learned the most about myself, other people and about other cultures. It was sad but it was a life-changing experience for me in a lot of things I am doing as a coach. I was supposed to be director of rugby and I certainly adjusted a lot of my thinking and things while that happened. That was a sad time.
“The highs were some games we scrapped through, like in the dying minutes against Ulster, drop-goals by Rory Scannell.
“Getting to the European semi-final against Saracens was another hight. I just felt, Munster belong in the play-off places and not just quarter-finals, getting to semi-finals and hopefully winning trophies. Although we lost that game, it was a great experience to get to see so many people in red. And playing in Ireland. I would have loved to win the game but it was a great experience for the team to get from where we were to there.”
It’s not because Erasmus is the boss that you won’t hear the players say a bad word about him. Their respect for the man has always been apparent even if they didn’t always take on board his attempts at levity!
”They haven’t laughed at one of my jokes,” he laments. “I am trying to get them to understand my humour. They are catching Jacques’ (his assistant, fellow South African Nienaber) now but they are struggling with mine. It’s seldom in the rugby world where you coach when all the guys are graduates with degrees and busy studying. The first thing, they have a great work ethic. They see rugby as a job while they have the other great qualifications. Then they have the sense of what’s funny and what’s not. It takes a bit of time to get used to that. The moment you understand that, it’s a nice place to be.”
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