Rassie Erasmus: Johann Van Graan will ‘get into Munster players' hearts’

Rassie Erasmus jetted home to South Africa last night confident that Munster are in safe hands with his replacement, Johann van Graan.

Erasmus had a farewell barbecue in Limerick over the weekend with Jacques Nienaber, his defence coach, ahead of his departure after the “best 18 months of my life”. 

Van Graan, who was part of the Springbok setup hammered by Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, will take charge this time next week, and Erasmus says he will be a better head coach than he was.

“I was in a director of rugby role since 2011, but after Anthony Foley’s death, I was head coach and I’m not good at that, to be honest with you,” he said.

“The way people were at the funeral got me going again, because I’m more an overview guy.

“That’s why I’m happy it’s Johann van Graan coming in, he’s that kind of guy, he’s the Axel kind of guy, go and set a challenge, work on individual things with players, ask ‘what’s wrong at home’... I think the players missed that.

“Munster need a head coach and he’s a very good fit.

“In all the teams he’s been he’s taken over, he’s got that personal touch.

“Wherever he goes he gets into guys’ hearts. He knows the game well, so he’s not afraid to sit and talk to players about their game.” Van Graan will take over a side that has not looked as potent as they were last season, but Erasmus, speaking to Donal Lenihan on RTÉ’s Against the Head, said there’s a good reason for that.

“What Munster are doing now is chopping and changing, feeling everyone out, we’re not getting the best team out every week as we did last year,” he said.

“When we got to the PRO12 final we were punch drunk, that’s not to say Scarlets weren’t the best team on the day.

“We’re trying to build a squad to compete in both competitions. Last year with our squad we couldn’t win both.

“We’re not hitting our straps yet, because we’re chopping and changing, building the squad.

“Getting Chris Farrell in, James Hart in, we’re building a squad to compete in two competitions.” Munster went close last season, reaching the Champions Cup semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions Saracens, before going down to Scarlets in the PRO12 final. 

“It was a remarkable achievement after the early season shock following Foley’s death in Paris, and a year that will live long in Erasmus’s memory.

“I’ll be honest, the first few days [after Foley’s passing] I felt sorry for myself being in that situation, then I realised it was very selfish and there’s people who are really suffering,” he said.

“I knew Axel for only a few months, and developed into being good friends, but then I saw how other people were suffering, his wife and his kids and other close friends, and those who went through tough times with him at this specific club, and now we realised we must help and try and sort it out.

“My job was, really easy, the way everyone at Munster handled it. And Olive [Axel’s wife] — we all looked at her and thought ‘how could she do it?’ and so we couldn’t sit in the corner and feel sorry for ourselves. 

“Then the fans stood behind the whole thing, the country actually. The whole world, when you think about it, we had All Blacks mailing us, the Maori team having a nice tribute, every single national team, world rugby stood together, Irish people stood together. I learned a hell of a lot.”

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