Rassie Erasmus admits that he will experience mixed emotions at Musgrave Park tonight when Munster take on the Dragons in what may be his last game as the team’s head coach.
While excited at the prospect of returning home to take up the role as director of rugby with the South African Rugby Union, Erasmus also admits that leaving Munster and all it stands for will be a wrench he isn’t relishing.
Erasmus will be around for a few weeks, but as Munster don’t have another game for a fortnight and his successor Johann van Graan arrives next week, this is almost certainly his last game at the helm.
“It would be nice to sign off with a win,” he said of tonight’s Guinness PRO14 clash.
“That would be great, so that we can go into the break and then meet Zebre and Ospreys, before going back into Europe against Leicester. I would like the club to be nice and steady by then.”
Erasmus admitted this week that he got it wrong in putting out more or less unchanged teams over the last series of matches, beginning with the league defeat against Leinster, followed by the European Cup matches against Castres and Racing 92 and last week’s loss to Connacht in Galway.
His hands were tied in that respect for the visit of Dragons, with 11 of his squad on duty with Ireland, even if Darren Sweetnam, Ian Keatley and Chris Farrell were released back to the province.
The side to take on the Dragons shows 10 changes from that which lost to Connacht last week. Billy Holland resumes the captaincy for his 170th game with the province.
The game marks the first outing in the Munster jersey of Chris Cloete, the team’s new 26-year-old signing from South Africa, where he played for Western Province, the Southern Kings, and the Pumas and scored two tries when lining out for South Africa A against the South African Barbarians last May.
Cloete, who stands a little over 5 ft 9 inches and weighs 15 stone 6 lbs, doesn’t have the usual physique of a modern wing-forward, but comes with a reputation as a fiercely competitive tackler and powerful ball carrier who is sure to challenge strongly for a place in the Munster back-row.
The Cork crowd will also be happy that Simon Zebo is available to line out at full-back after his much publicised passing over for Ireland by Joe Schmidt, while JJ Hanrahan finally achieves his ambition to start at out-half, as the battle for the all-important No 10 jersey with Keatley and Tyler Bleyendaal heats up.
Second-row Darren O’Shea and loose-head prop James Cronin have worked their way back into the match-day 23 after frustrating spells out with injury. They are just two of several players involved tonight desperately keen to make their presence felt.
As Duncan Williams hinted this week, all the alterations may not be a bad thing, pointing out that “there are a few lads who haven’t played in a few weeks who are mad eager to get out and put up their hands and show what they can do”.
For Bernard Jackman, the highly rated Irishman coaching the Dragons, these are frustrating times. His side keeps putting in impressive, attacking performances without turning it all into scores. As a result, they find themselves sixth of the seven teams in their league conference.
Jackman has made 10 changes from the team that lost the Welsh derby to the Ospreys last week, four enforced by Welsh squad requirements.
The captaincy goes to James Benjamin, a key man in the back-row, an area causing Jackman numerous problems because of a spate of injuries to key players.
S Zebo; D Sweetnam, C Farrell, R Scannell, A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, D Williams; L O’Connor, R Marshall, S Archer, J Kleyn, B Holland capt, J O’Donoghue, C Cloete, R Copeland.
K O’Byrne, J Cronin, B Scott, D O’Shea, M Flanagan; J Hart, I Keatley, S Arnold.
W Talbot-Davies; A Hewitt, A Warren, J Dixon, J Rosser; A O’Brien, C Davies; T Davies, G Ellis, L Fairbrother, J Davies, R Landman, A Wainwright, J Benjamin capt, J Sheekey.
L Belcher, L Garrett, B Harris, S Andrews, B Roach; S Pretorius, A Robson, P Howard.
M Adamson (Scotland).
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