Rassie Erasmus says Munster will start with a blank canvas

Whether it was a brave face or genuine optimism from Rassie Erasmus this week, the feelgood vibes emanating from Munster’s director of rugby ahead of tomorrow’s Champions Cup opener in Paris could evaporate in a heartbeat if his side fails to rise to the occasion.

Rassie Erasmus says Munster will start with a blank canvas

Erasmus faces a European baptism of fire at Stade Yves du Manoir when his side attempt to start rebuilding the province’s reputation at the continent’s top table in a city where it reached its nadir just nine months ago.

Last January’s humiliation across town by 14-man Stade Francais categorically erased any remaining lustre from the legacy of Munster’s Heineken Cup wins of 2006 and 08, paving the way for the South African’s introduction this summer as the man to turn things around and restore pride in Europe’s premier club competition.

It will not be easily regained following a draw that pits his new charges against PRO12 rivals Glasgow Warriors, English nemesis Leicester Tigers and tomorrow’s opponents, Racing 92.

The champions of France, Racing’s European pedigree may not be long on history but it has been enhanced by last season’s run to the final, where they fell to fellow arrivistes Saracens.

They did so conceding fewer tries than any other team, just eight in nine matches and, of course, they have a little of Munster’s successful DNA of a decade ago coursing through them courtesy of assistant coach Ronan O’Gara.

Erasmus, though, is not one to dwell on the past. To the former Springbok flanker each new game is a fresh start, no baggage attached from campaigns that went before or even the performance put in the previous week.

Last Saturday’s derby defeat to Leinster and the individual errors that coughed up two costly tries in a 25-14 reverse have been dealt with and coaches and players have moved on. Last January’s demise at the hands of Stade Francais never mentioned.

Tomorrow’s trip to Colombes is a blank canvas, there are no ghosts to exorcise, nor is there anything to fear.

“We try not to look back,” Erasmus said on Thursday.

“We try to see this as a new season with new players and some new coaching staff involved and new opposition.

"We’re dealing with our own season and we’re playing Racing, which is a team we’ve played before, but if we track too much into the history, you know, where do we stop? How far do you go back?

“We try to put that stuff behind us, even from weekend to weekend, even from last weekend to this weekend.

"It’s a new battle, new opportunities, new players, new plans. It’s different stadiums, different players to play against, enjoy it and see how you can win those little individual battles.

“It’s frustrating when you make out games like this as ‘daunting’. That’s not why we’re in the game, this is exactly the type of game we want to go and play in to measure yourself against (a good side). That’s the correct motive and so we don’t want to go into those negative things in the past. That doesn’t enhance our game in any way.”

You can be sure, however, that Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber had a good look back at Racing’s own derby performance against Stade last Saturday when the French champions used all their power and determination to come from 22-19 down inside the last 10 minutes to win 29-22.

Stade could find no answer to the rucking and turnover prowess of a Racing pack featuring Leone Nakawara, Wenceslas Lauret, Yannick Nyanga and Chris Masoe, nor the strength unleashed off the bench to get hooker Camille Chat over the line for the winning try in the 79th minute.

Yet while Erasmus knows the dangers he was also extolling the virtues of positive thinking. “I probably think the pressure might be a little off us externally but internally we desperately want to win. Maybe it will benefit us (being away from home), we will see that on Sunday.

“We are in a good place, we are in a good spot. We are getting players proper game-time before the first European match. We had some tough decisions to take in terms of taking Peter O’Mahony off in the 20th and 40th minute (against Zebre and Leinster respectively) to get him ready, then bringing back Rory Scannell.

"There are really tough decisions because the PRO12 is long haul and Europe is a knock-out competition. But obviously the other squads have so much talent and depth also. So Sunday will be a challenge as well to see how we can start in this competition.”

Erasmus has also been around long enough to know that mistakes similar to those in defence and attack against Leinster will be equally costly by a Racing 23 packed to the gills with world-class talent, even if quality of the calibre of Dan Carter, Dimitri Szarzewski, Bernard le Roux and Casey Laulala is sidelined through injury.

As he sees it, Munster simply have to seize their moments.

“Listen, on Saturday against Leinster we had more possession than they had and they scored three brilliant tries and we could only score two.

"So sometimes it’s not just all about possession, it’s when you get those one or two big moments that you actually get points. Like, if we scored our try on Saturday and we didn’t concede and easy try right after that.

“Their team, I think there’s only two or three players in their starting XV who can’t score a try out of nothing and that’s a danger about them. If you’re a second off your concentration or off your game there’s brilliant players all over the park.

"Even if Carter is not playing, the back-up nine ... they’ve got so much second-row depth and in the loose forwards, even the props are really skilful, so it’s tough to pinpoint where they’re really good at because all over the park they’re really, really challenging.”

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