Rassie Erasmus says his challenge to bring a “solid” second row to Munster for next season is 95% complete.
Munster’s director of rugby, named Guinness PRO12 coach of the season last Sunday after guiding the Reds to first place on the final table and securing a home play-off semi-final with fourth-placed Ospreys in eight days, has already signed Irish backs James Hart, JJ Hanrahan and Chris Farrell for the 2017-18 campaign.
Yet, with Irish international locks Donnacha Ryan and Dave Foley both leaving at the end of the current season to join French clubs, the South African feels the second row is his major concern in terms of recruitment.
“We have a few gaps we have to fill,” Erasmus said. “We’re 95% there, we have to get the balance right at second row.
“There’s guys like Darren O’Shea, who are putting their hand up, guys like Dave O’Callaghan can help us out there and Billy (Holland) is there, Jean Kleyn... But with Donnacha Ryan and Dave Foley moving on, we have young Sean O’Connor and Fineen (Wycherley) coming through (but) we probably need a solid signing there, which I’m currently trying to do.”
With Erasmus set to finalise departures from the current squad in the coming days, All Black centre Francis Saili looking increasingly likely to move on after two years interrupted by a serious shoulder injury, the former Springbok is hoping to make midfield loan signing Jaco Taute’s move from the Stormers permanent.
There are also further vacancies in the Munster pack he would like to fill, although he stressed finances would determine to what extent his wishes will be met.
“We’d like to bolster a little bit more in the front row and maybe at loose forward, but in saying that we’d have a lot of Irish guys in mind because we only have a certain amount of foreign spots and only a certain amount of money.
“I would say we’re 95% there. It is a difficult time of the year, we’ve been doing it the whole year but I guess if we were playing a European Cup final (this Saturday) it would have been even tougher.
“At least we’ve a bit of an administration week this week, I wasn’t supposed to be so much on the field when I came here but I’m pretty much on the field every day so weeks like this, when you don’t play a match but you still train, gives you a chance to catch up on those things.”
It will not be too long, however, before Erasmus is fully focused on Munster’s next game, the PRO12 semi-final against Ospreys at Thomond Park a week on Saturday.
No team has won a league semi away from home and though Munster will be hot favourites for the clash, having finished 17 points ahead of the Welsh region, the Reds boss is not reading anything into home and away wins against them this season.
Both games fell during Test windows, leaving each side short of international firepower, with Munster crushing Steve Tandy’s side 33-0 at Musgrave Park on the eve of Ireland’s historic win over the All Blacks in November and escaping Liberty Stadium with a 25-23 win on March 18, the same day Joe Schmidt’s side beat Six Nations champions England.
Indeed, the last meeting that featured two fully loaded teams was the 2015 semi-final at Thomond Park, when Munster squeaked home 21-18, thanks to a disallowed Josh Matavesi try at the death.
“I guess if you look at the last two results people might think (Ospreys are underdogs), but I know that particularly the first game when we played them there were 15 or 16 guys with the Welsh squad.
“They had three props on the bench and an extra hooker, they didn’t even have a second row on the bench - I know they were really thin when we beat them at home.
"Away, it was such a close game - we beat them by two points so I guess people from the outside might see it that way, but we scraped through a few games by just one or two points this season so we’ll be very realistic about the challenge.”
Erasmus is expecting a full-strength Ospreys side to travel to Limerick with talismanic Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones back in harness after a lengthy injury absence.
“I’m pretty sure they’ll get him back and, listen, the fly-halves they have, their full-backs and everyone is fit - I checked (their 40-17 loss to Scarlets last Saturday), they had a number nine playing at winger in (Tom) Habberfield, (fly-half Sam) Davies was withdrawn just before the game and (prop) Brian Mujati missed it.
“In two weeks time, they’ll be just like us. We got Conor (Murray) back (for Saturday’s 50-14 win over) against Connacht which helped obviously because we could rest Duncan (Williams), but again Tyler Bleyendaal got injured. He got a bicep problem. So in the next 14 days a lot can happen, the two squads will compare very closely.”
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