Munster were eyeing defence guru Jacques Nienaber as a head coach for the province before Rassie Erasmus snapped him up for his Springbok masterplan to conquer the world.
Former Munster Rugby chief Garrett Fitzgerald has revealed that they wanted to keep Nienaber and Welsh S&C coach Aled Walters, but Erasmus recognised the quality ticket he had at his disposal and took them with him to South Africa - returning to secure the services of Munster’s own Felix Jones. Nienaber is now fancied to be confirmed as the new head coach of the world champions.
Fitzgerald, speaking on an exclusive Examiner Sport podcast, revealed: “It doesn’t surprise me at all that Rassie managed to get South Africa to win the World Cup. He is a very charismatic person, a natural leader of people.
“He is an excellent communicator which helps him understand people very quickly, even from different nationalities. He gets what turns them on and makes them tick. He’s a bright, intelligent, academic guy who knows the game of rugby well. And he wasn’t a bit afraid to put his hand up if there were aspects of the game where he wasn’t at his best with or needed help with.
“Rassie could build an instant relationship with people, regardless of what position they held in the club. He was prepared to do whatever he needed to do to achieve and bring people with him. In professional sport, people have ambition, you have to take things fast if the opportunity arises. (Their success) is a strong vindication of what Munster had seen.
“Aled (Walters) was with us before Rassie arrived, he was in our plans, and we had spoken to him about staying on with us. But you get a very short career in international sport and Aled got an opportunity to work with a national team, to go to a Rugby World Cup, and that is huge for a CV.
“Felix was different, you could spot something in Felix that he was always going to go down the coaching route sooner or later. As a player he was quite intense about his game, he wanted everything to be right, always measuring himself, looking at what he was doing. Size didn’t matter and if he saw somewhere he needed to get to, it didn’t matter the size of the individuals in front of him.
The way circumstances worked out with us, with Axel’s passing, a mantle fell on the likes of himself and Jerry (Flannery) way earlier than we or they expected. In my opinion, they dealt with it incredibly well, I worked quite closely with them and was very conscious of the fact you were dealing with young men, who were only in the infancy of a career, who were vulnerable to everything that was going on.
“It was a really pressurised time for him and for Jerry. They did a great job together, and got us through a difficult time. When Rassie came on board, they certainly saw something in him. Suddenly there was someone on their doorstep they were meeting every morning who had played at a high level, who’d coached at a high level.
“They needed something to hang onto and I really couldn’t provide that as CEO. On the coaching side, they needed someone who was up at that level. They built a quick attachment to Rassie because they could see something in him. Both of them are exceptional for wanting to learn and improve themselves.
“Rassie saw that in them as well. He immediately knew what he had on his hands with Aled and with Felix. We knew as well, they were both in our long term plans but today in pro sport, plans are great but they don’t always happen. Jacques had come with Rassie, they’d been friendly for years, met in the military service in South Africa. When Rassie notified us that he was leaving, our wish was that Jacques would stay on and be the new head coach in time. But I think they were always going to work together.”
Fitzgerald admitted that in professional rugby, you are always dealing in the short term.
“Someone will arrive with a fat chequebook or a family issue that they don’t settle. We have this deluded long-term dreams of what will happen, but coaches all have dreams themselves and have a short window to make a living. They don’t earn as much as players.”