Garrett Fitzgerald: We couldn’t stand in Rassie’s way

Munster will have a new head coach by the end of 2017 after director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber’s departures were confirmed by the province, as reported in yesterday’s Irish Examiner.

The South African duo will see out a six-month notice period, which will include Munster’s first four Champions Cup pool games, before returning to their native country at the end of December.

Erasmus will become the SARU’s director of rugby, with Nienaber acting as a high performance coach.

“We have been in this position before, whereby our coach has been offered a national role and we are not going to stand in the way of someone in that regard,” said Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald.

“We understand Rassie’s decision, and all parties are working together in managing the situation.”

That search for a replacement will begin immediately, with players and management back in pre-season training this week. Current forwards coach Jerry Flannery and backline and attack coach Felix Jones, who agreed two-year contract extensions earlier this month, are, according to Fitzgerald, “now ready to step up to the next level”.

“Rassie succeeded in getting us back on track with much of the same personnel and when you see how far we have come and what we have gone through as a squad and organisation I am confident we will successfully manage the next stage. As a group we will be all the better for their input with Jerry and Felix now ready to step up to the next level.

“I believe we are in a positive place and I don’t think there will be any doubts around what we can achieve and go on to do.

“We’ll continue to learn from both coaches and progress with putting the structures and processes in place in making sure we are a side performing and competing at the highest level.”

Erasmus joined Munster this day last year ahead of what turned out to be a difficult time for all involved with the province, with the sudden death of head coach Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley in October.

On the field, Munster had some success in progressing to the Champions Cup semi-finals and PRO12 final, but ended without a trophy after losses to Saracens and Scarlets respectively. They were among only six defeats during a season in which Munster won 26 games and also defeated the Maori All Blacks.

Fitzgerald reiterated that Munster were “very lucky” to have Erasmus and Nienaber on board to steer the squad through a turbulent year.

“While we understand Erasmus’ reason to return to his home country for an opportunity as the national director of rugby we are disappointed to see him and Jacques both leave.

“Working closely with both I witnessed first-hand the work that they do, and we will always be grateful to Rassie for leading the squad through our most difficult time with the untimely passing of Axel.

“We are thankful for the services of such experienced and knowledgeable coaching talent.”

Erasmus, in his new role, will oversee South African rugby’s eight national teams and participation and management of 20 competitions, as well as the development of players, coaches and referees.

Jurie Roux, the CEO of the SARU, said that Erasmus’s return wouldn’t change Allister Coetzee’s position as Springbok coach: “Allister has done a great job to turn the Springboks around this season and I can categorically put to rest any idea that he is being replaced as Springbok coach.”


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