David Wallace is confident Rassie Erasmus can succeed where Rob Penney struggled and land on a style of play that utilises Munster’s traditional strengths up front while making the most of a promising back line.
Penney tried to move Munster away from a dogged, forward-based game towards an open, varied style more prevalent in New Zealand but it never fully gelled.
Erasmus arrived in Ireland this summer after a four-year stint as South Africa’s high-performance general manager. A key part of that role was the development of a uniform style of play to be incorporated across all Springbok representative sides. CJ Stander spoke some months ago about how Erasmus would bring a more open game to the province as director of rugby but it remains to be seen what transpires on the ground.
“We’ll have to look and see,” said Wallace. “There is a tradition of playing a certain style in Munster and you do need to play to your strengths. Rob Penney had some good ideas and we see his gameplan implemented in New Zealand and other places very successfully.
“There was a final 10% missing there in knowing who your players were and in what different positions and Rob would probably agree now that he was almost there. But Rassie will bring his own style and maybe work around the players as well a little bit.
“Munster’s forwards have always been a huge strength but we do have some fantastic backs as well: The likes of Conor Murray, Keith Earls, Francis Saili, Simon Zebo. There is plenty of pace in that back line and some good young guys coming through as well.”
Wallace was one of those observers who last season suggested Anthony Foley could do with some experienced heads around him. He made his assertion in mid-January when the province had won one and lost six of their previous seven games. The branch felt the same. Andy Farrell was brought in for a temporary part-time stint after the new year but the arrival of Erasmus has signalled a seachange in how Munster go about their business.
“Erasmus is very good technically and organisationally and it leaves Axel to get on doing with what he loves doing which is being on the pitch and coaching the team. It seems to be working out well and they are moving into their new [UL training centre] after many a year. There’s a lot of positives there.
“Every year you look at the end of the season as to where you can make a few extra percent here or there. Hopefully with the new regime and new ways of doing things, and being in one centre having all that time together, could be an extra 15%-20% and a shot in the arm.”
Munster’s ills haven’t been limited to the coaching box. Wallace was one of those calling for wider structural change last season but feels the alterations already made are enough to be getting on with.
Allowing the summer dust to settle and the new coaching ticket time and space to get on with the job is paramount for now. Succeed on the pitch and any number of the associated issues facing the province will be eased or even eradicated.
Easier said than done.
All three rival provinces will enter the forthcoming PRO12 season with high hopes as well and the Rugby Champions Cup pool in which Munster find themselves is proof positive as to how the old Heineken Cup has become even harder to negotiate.
“Certainly they will want to qualify and take it from there. Your goal is obviously to win the competition, there is no point in being there otherwise. But you would certainly like to see them qualify. It is going to be very difficult, we know that.
“You look at Munster’s group and there is no game that stands out as a banker. They have to try and find a way. They know Glasgow and Leicester well although Racing might obviously have a bit of insider knowledge on them.
“Racing lost their first [Top 14] game there so it will be interesting to see how they go this week. In France especially, teams who have a bit of success the year before can find it hard to back it up the following year. It’s still a difficult game.”
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