Rassie Erasmus: ‘I’m so proud I can say I coached Munster’

It is perfectly plausible when Rassie Erasmus explains that after all the Munster organisation has been through over the past 13 months, the departure of a director of rugby is no reason for emotion.

Rassie Erasmus: ‘I’m so proud I can say I coached Munster’

The redness of his eyes as he explains his reasoning, though, tells a different tale.

The bags are packed, the family is already back home in South Africa and Erasmus and his faithful assistant Jacques Nienaber have overseen their final game as part of the Munster management.

All that is left is to welcome incoming head coach Johann van Graan and wish their former charges well as their new roles at South African Rugby await.

Simple and straightforward? Well, no actually. Saying goodbye to a province he helped through the trauma of losing Anthony Foley has proven more difficult than Erasmus could have imagined when he handed in his notice to quit Munster this summer, just a year into the job.

His time in Ireland and at Munster Rugby, which saw him forced to take a more hands-on approach on the training field after Foley’s sudden passing, has had a huge impact on the 45-year-old and that is dawning on him in increasing measure as his exit draws near.

So much so that after Munster’s 49-6 PRO14 victory over Dragons at Musgrave Park on Friday night, Erasmus said his experience at the club was the best 18 months of his life.

Asked if it had been difficult to keep emotions in check during his final game in charge, he added: “Yeah, look, I think the players have gone through so many emotions over the last year, a little thing, or maybe not a little thing but a thing like me and Jacques departing... last year we had really tough things we had to go through.

“So nothing was emotional during the week, the players are professional and I think the performance showed tonight.

“But for me and Jacques, it’s very emotional. We went through a lot this year and learned a lot about ourselves and about how people can support one another.

“Yeah, it was tough but, you know, so proud of saying ‘I coached Munster’. It’s a nice thing to say and I coached them in good times, so that’s nice.”

Jacques Nienaber
Jacques Nienaber

Though he would soon be leaving Erasmus said Munster would remain a part of his life.

“The decision to leave was definitely not easy, I didn’t plan on leaving. I got my whole family over here and settled children in school and I convinced Jacques and his wife to come with me and then you convince them to go back again.

“So it’s big decisions, tough decisions and we have to live by those decisions. You sometimes wonder, some days you’re not sure but you’ll never know if you don’t take the chances in life.

“When I put my wife and my children on the plane home it was a massive thing and it’s tough to do those things and it will always be part of my life.

It wasn’t just rugby, it was other stuff... My family, certainly we’ve grown closer here.

“In South Africa, you get so involved and busy and fly all over the world and here as a family you flew over here and you just know one another and then you grow much tighter.

“It was really good for my family life and my personal life so I think that helped me a lot.”

Munster feel they have benefited from his and Nienaber’s presence, albeit for a shorter time than they had hoped and Erasmus said he thought the province were “sitting pretty at this stage” in Europe and the league.

Now the baton is set to be passed to Van Graan, who Erasmus feels will inherit two “world-class” operators in attack coach Felix Jones and forwards coach Jerry Flannery.

“I’m telling you they are world-class coaches and sometimes people say you must coach 10/15 years to be considered a world-class coach but I really think differently. Felix and Jerry are world-class coaches.

“They will go through some tough times and nerves and they won’t sleep at night, they must go through all of that stuff but the one thing is the work ethic and what they lack in experience they make up in relentless work rate and they will always be successful because they are very hard workers.”

Is Erasmus leaving Munster in a better place than when he took over in the summer of 2016?

“Probably one can say that,” he replied, “but for me it’s more the positivity from the fans towards the players, the players to the fans. I think the vibe in the camp is good.

“It’s nice to have results, that’s important, but when the players are aligned in what they’re trying to do and believe in one another, that gives me satisfaction.”

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