Rassie Erasmus: ‘Johann van Graan loves to embrace the players’ personal lives. I was never great at that’

Rassie Erasmus. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi

Rassie Erasmus is charged with reviving Springbok rugby, but he says part of him will always be in Munster, writes John Fallon

Every head turned as the man with the most important job in South African rugby made his way across the car park to the entrance to Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein.

But even Munster supporters had to take a second glance to make sure it was him. Dressed in jeans, a white t-shirt and jumper, Rassie Erasmus looked more like a fan than the director of South Africa rugby.

He stopped and posed for photographs and a chat with the Springbok, Munster and Cheetahs supporters.

Himself a former Springbok flanker, it was as if the past, the present and the future were all coming together.

Erasmus has been busy over the past few weeks holding training camps around South Africa for the Springboks — they base themselves for a week at whichever of their clubs has a bye in Super Rugby — but he was able to make it Bloemfontein for Munster’s clash with the Cheetahs at the weekend.

Erasmus staged a series of meetings with PRO14 and SARU officials in Bloemfontein aimed at strengthening the links between them. He has joined the PRO14 board along with SARU chief executive Jurie Roux.

His Test career as South Africa director of rugby will begin in Washington against Wales next month before three clashes with England in Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Cape Town.

But Erasmus will be glued to the television with family and friends on Sunday as Munster bid to reach their first European final since lifting their second Heineken Cup crown in 2008.

The South Africa director of rugby, who left Munster after less than a season and a half as director of rugby to return to take charge of the Springboks, said he knew Johann van Graan would settle in immediately and drive the Reds forward.

Johann van Graan
Johann van Graan

And Erasmus, who started out the season in charge of Munster, believes that this is a special group of players who can push on for glory.

“It’s away from home. It’s going to be tough. Munster certainly have a chance because they are the underdog because Racing have been on a roll. “But it’s wonderful to watch Munster play and the way they went about that game against Toulon it’s as they always do, get it at the last minute, make it tough on themselves but they grinded it out.

“It was really clinical, the last game they played, and now it’s the semi-final.

“But Munster is special. They will always be my team and I will always watch out for them. It is great to see them push forward.”

Erasmus, who recommended van Graan, said he knew the Springbok forwards and attack coach would be a good fit.

“I told you he would fit in well! He is a guy who loves to embrace the players’ personal lives. I was never great at that. When Anthony passed away I was never the guy to be that specific head coach kind of role for 46 weeks. That’s not me and I thought he would be a really good fit. It’s amazing how it worked and look at the results.”

He has been busy since returning to South Africa prior to Christmas. He has set up home again in Cape Town and is preparing for the four warm-up matches before the Rugby Championship kicks off against Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.

“Settling wasn’t difficult because I was only away for just under two years. I stayed more or less in the same neighbourhood where I stayed. The children are in a different school.

“But otherwise I know the SA rugby set-up very well. The matches haven’t started so I am still in the honeymoon phase, but yes, I’m excited about the challenge.”

Warren Gatland’s Wales will provide the first test on June 2 in the United States and then Eddie Jones will bring his battered England side on a tour of South Africa and Erasmus knows these will be huge tasks.

“The Welsh gave us a good hiding in November. Scarlets are doing well in Europe as well. So, they will be tough and then a week after we are playing England at altitude so nice tough ones coming up.

“But I’m looking forward to it all,” he added.

Before all of that he will sit back and hope that his former side go another step towards glory. My team in Europe is Munster and nobody else.”

The next chapter in his career begins in the USA next month against Wales and by then he hopes he will be raising a glass in Cape Town to a side which will always hold a special place in his heart.

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