It’s way too soon for new Munster coaching director Johann Erasmus to pick out the individuals he expects to make their mark in his first season.
Yet, following Munster’s relatively impressive 17-0 pre-season friendly win over Zebre in Waterford on Friday night, the South African couldn’t help but share some words of praise for Darren Sweetnam.
Erasmus was impressed with the winger’s overall performance as much as his ability to finish off chances — Sweetnam scored two tries at important stages of a match heavily influenced by strong wind and driving rain.
Sweetnam fastened onto a chip through from Ian Keatley to nab his first try through his ability to control the ball on the very wet ground and he rounded off a decent night with a couple of sidesteps on a strong run to get himself outside the Zebre defence and over for a second.
On a night when Erasmus was cautious with his choice of words to describe the win, he said of Sweetnam: “Yeah he’s such a talent, I think it can be a massive breakthrough season for him, I hoped he’d start well like this and he did.”
The slippery conditions limited the opportunities for Munster to play the game with ball in hand. On a night when Erasmus gave all 29 togged players a run, it was a cautious albeit rewarding start.
“When the weather is like this and it is going to be a lot, it is a good start,” Erasmus said. “It hadn’t been like this in training so we had to adjust and I think the guys adjusted. With a few guys making their first caps they should have been nervous and I think they held it together nicely so I think I would say we had a solid start, not a great and not a bad one but a solid start.”
Despite all the chopping and changing, Munster’s defence was aggressive and looked well organised. Erasmus praised the players and paid tribute to his South African sidekick, defence coach Jacques Nienabar.
“Our defence coach Jacques will be pretty happy with that. I think all over, with the guys that slotted in when you make so many changes you lose a bit of rhythm but you always expect the defence to stay solid and I think they did.
“I think the players are enjoying the way all the coaches are doing it but Jacques has a massive passion for defence and I think the players understand him and what he tries to do - and he understands them. He doesn’t expect a player who has a certain skillset to do something he can’t and that is where the connection between the players and Jacques is good.”
Next up is Worcester Warriors in Musgrave Park on Friday, and Erasmus hopes for a better night weather-wise and a similar one in terms of crowd reaction, after the 2.600 fans at the Waterford Regional Sports Centre responded enthusiastically to Munster’s efforts.
“We couldn’t really do a lot of things because of the weather but you know when the wind is howling like that it makes it really tough to play any rugby,”
“I think for me it was the first time to experience the way the supporters appreciate the different facets of the game. Sometimes, when you play in a certain way, fans don’t appreciate it but I felt they appreciated it the weather, the kicking and the defence and I’m sure the people in Cork will be the same; that is what I am really looking forward to.”
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