Rassie Erasmus last night laid the significance of Saturday’s European Champions Cup clash of Munster and Racing 92 at Thomond Park firmly on the line.
“If we win, we are top of the table, if they win they are top of the table, so that’s how important it is”, he said before using the poor performance in Castres on Sunday to warn: “if we play like that this week, we won’t get any points out of the game”.
It was almost as if Erasmus didn’t want to be reminded his team conceded 15 turnovers, 11 penalties and missed 22 tackles in somehow escaping from the South of France with a share of the spoils they probably didn’t deserve.
“No, you cannot argue with conceding 11 penalties”, he accepted. “Seven I would say, listen, the boys tried to save the team with a desperation tackle and maybe fell on the wrong side trying to stop a maul, so seven of them I think are forgivable, because it was out of trying to help the team. But four were just stupid penalties. Turnovers, they are used to that wind but it was tremendously tough for us. We totally underestimated it and we played the wrong tactics, so they managed it much better. Those stats speak for themselves”.
The absence of injured key forwards like South Africans Gerbrandt Grobler (who is long term) and Johann Kleyn (a big doubt again this week) isn’t helping the Munster cause while Erasmus argues that others of relatively recent vintage are only slowly coming to terms with new surrounds. Centre Chris Farrell, of whom so much was expected at the outset, is clearly one of those struggling to find his form.
“Yes, he is new to our set-up and f you think of Jean Kleyn, the first few weeks he arrived here, you think of CJ Stander when he arrived here, if you arrive as a new person into a set-up it takes you a while to settle”, Erasmus argued. “It will take JJ Hanrahan a while, it will take James Hart a while. Rhys Marshall took a while. You are in a new environment, you have to learn how the players around you react in certain circumstances, you have to feel that pressure. “
The proximity of a clash with a side of the vast resources of Racing certainly doesn’t allow for a repeat of the recent performances against Leinster and Castres. The French themselves didn’t look world beaters in scraping home against Leicester Tigers in Paris at the weekend but Erasmus still regards them as formidable opponents on Saturday.
“Without a doubt, we are in for a tough one and a repeat of Castres means we get no points from the game”, he stated. “We were naive at times, giving them opportunities where there is nothing on for us to try and we just pushed our luck a little bit there.
“So we will have to have a massive step up, not just with Leone Nakarawa the giant Fijian forward), Dan Carter will probably be in the mix, They have two big centres. Their line-out is unbelievable, they contest probably best in Top 14”.
Erasmus may not be still here when South Africa play Ireland at Lansdowne Road on October 11th and he certainly won’t be involved with the Springboks for that game. However, his successor at Munster, Johann Von Graam, was in the High Performance Centre in UL yesterday with Rassie’s praise for his capabilities ringing in his ears.
“Johann is here to observe this week”, he reported. “We’re making sure he meets all the players, to see how our coaching set-up works, how our weeks are planned and meet all the various other departments, just to observe how we do things.
“When his work permit is successful he’ll know everyone and not spend the first four or five days just finding his feet so we’re trying to let him do that. His wife and his children are over here. They’re looking for a place to stay.”
If Erasmus is on the money, then it appears that Munster have acquired a coach of extraordinary quality in Von Graan.
“Yeah, I can speak for him because I know him”, he stressed. “Look, he’s been under pressure in his life, like when he coached the Bulls, in those days with 50 or 60,000 people at a match and if you lose sometimes there’s then 2,000 people after you. In the World Cup, they lost to Japan and they had to turn that around. They went on to the semi-finals and lost by two points to the All Blacks.
“Five weeks ago they lost to the All Blacks by 57 points and they managed to handle that pressure and come back and lose by one point. So I don’t think the pressure will get to him. He’s a really level-headed, cool guy. The new thing is just to pretty quickly understand the culture and the players.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved