Rassie Erasmus can use Sarries template for way forward

So now Rassie Erasmus knows the size of the task facing him over the remaining two seasons of his Munster contract and perhaps beyond.
Rassie Erasmus can use Sarries template for way forward

Champions Cup

Munster 10 Saracens 26

Saracens have shown the path his players must take if this next generation of men in red are to become European powerhouses and they did it with a masterclass in defence and game management that slowly, ruthlessly extinguished Munster’s aspirations.

That Erasmus will remain as director of rugby beyond this season, resisting advances from his South African homeland, is a massive boost for the province after a weekend which saw them well beaten in a red-blooded Champions Cup semi-final at Aviva Stadium.

Yet both the former Springbok and the players he has guided through this most remarkable of campaigns since the death of head coach Anthony Foley last October will know that for all the progress made in his first 10 months at the helm there is still plenty of work to be done if they are to come close to playing with the authority Saracens exuded for 80 minutes in Dublin on Saturday.

As Mark McCall’s project with the north London club has demonstrated since he became director of rugby in the summer of 2011, there will be obstacles and disappointments along the way.

It took five seasons for them to reach the pinnacle of the European club game and the loss of two semi-finals and a final before they lifted the Champions Cup in Lyon last May.

“I think it’s a cultural thing,” Saracens hooker Schalk Brits said of his club’s winning habit.

“We’ve been together for ages and a group being together with our core principles does help. We’ve seen some tough times. We’ve lost in semi-finals and finals. We made a lot of errors today but the effort was outstanding.

“Our defence got us through this game. It was a good day for us. We have belief in each other. With these big games, you can’t look too far ahead. You have to focus on the next play. If you start looking at the clock or the scoreboard you start losing focus on what is happening now.

Two or three years ago we changed all the mindset to focus on the next play being most important. Sometimes the bounce of the ball just doesn’t go your way but if you get stuck on that thought you’re not focusing on the next job.”

The hope for Munster will be that, like Saracens, they can use this disappointment as a springboard to further progress and learn the lessons from a game in which they were thwarted from the start by their opponent’s physicality, defensive organisation and adaptability to adjust to the momentum of play.

It happened in the opening six minutes when Munster threw the kitchen sink at the defending champions, laying siege to their line before Saracens conceded a penalty that suited them much more than the Irish side. Tyler Bleyendaal racked up the three points but it should have been seven.

Sarries’ defensive prowess frustrated Munster again when flanker Jackson Wray went to the bin for a high tackle on Duncan Williams and 14 men kept their black wall as impregnable as before, denying Munster and their 50,000 roaring supporters a sniff of the line to last the 10 shorthanded minutes without conceding a point.

By then, the English champions had butchered a couple of try-scoring opportunities themselves and edged in front at 6-3 through the boot of Owen Farrell and another brilliant defensive set from McCall’s team saw out the first half to end an opening period which Munster had dominated everywhere but the scoreboard.

Their time had to come and the second-half saw them seize the day, aided by Munster’s loss to injury of flanker duo Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony. Only a try-saving tackle under the posts on George Kruis from substitute Jean Deysel, who would finish the game playing with broken ribs, prevented a Saracens try as they cranked up the pressure in both the set-piece and the loose but the inevitable score came a minute later when Mako Vunipola burrowed over for the opening try in the 53rd minute, Farrell converting.

Bleyendaal had a chance to get Munster rolling but missed a 58th-minute penalty, only to see Farrell stretch the lead further to 16-3 with a penalty six minutes later.

It was remorseless, Erasmus summing it up by saying “they squeezed the life out of us” and substitute wing Chris Wyle added to the misery with a 70th minute try that was the least his side deserved.

Farrell added the extras and a further penalty to seal the win before a CJ Stander try in the final minute, converted by Bleyendaal’s replacement Ian Keatley, brought Munster into double figures.

It was a last roar of defiance and a symbol of Munster’s spirit but Erasmus is optimistic the lessons can be learned, much more potential to be untapped, and more big-game experience to be accumulated.

“If we’ve come this far in nine, 10 months, if you go back and see how far Saracens came in eight, nine, 10 months when they were starting out, I think we’re pretty much really close to where we want to be,” he said.

“We’ll be better in a year’s time, and two years’ time and three years’ time. We will be better, but we have to get more, what is it, strings to our bow... more options. We can’t just stay with one game-plan and think that will work.”

Adapt and evolve. With a Pro12 title still in their sights in the short term and European objectives beyond this season, the way forward is clear. Let’s just call this the end of the beginning.


S Zebo; A Conway, J Taute (F Saili, 55), R Scannell, K Earls (D Sweetnam, 64); T Bleyendaal (I Keatley, 71), D Williams; D Kilcoyne (J Cronin, 52), N Scannell (R Marshall, 60), J Ryan (S Archer, 64); D Ryan, B Holland; P O’Mahony – captain, (D O’Callaghan, 52) T O’Donnell (J Deysel, 50), CJ Stander.


A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch (A Lozowski, 75), B Barritt - captain, S Maitland (C Wyles, 62); O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (B Spencer, 72); M Vunipola (T Lamositele, 72), J George (S Brits, 50), V Koch (P du Plessis, 71); M Itoje (J Hamilton, 75), G Kruis; M Rhodes, J Wray (S Burger, 56), B Vunipola.

Yellow card:

Wray 23-33 mins.


Romain Poite (France).

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