Witnessing Rassie Erasmus’s reaction to defeat last Friday night was as instructive as it was surprising.
There were two ways Erasmus could have reacted to his first defeat at the Munster helm, a 24-23 Guinness PRO12 loss to Cardiff Blues in Cork.
He could have followed type, the way these defeats are usually responded to in these parts, and growled, called for his players to take a long, hard look at themselves and ranted about the unacceptability of a home defeat.
Instead, the South African smiled, talked a lot about perspective and insisted there were bigger objectives at the start of his three-year mission to haul the former European champions back to glory than winning every game.
For now at least.
In his short time at Munster since usurping Anthony Foley as the main man in the province 10 weeks ago, Erasmus has made it clear he did not leave his high-powered role with the South African Rugby Union just to cross his fingers and hope for a measure of success.
No. The former Springbok has charged himself with building a squad from the ground up, developing indigenous talent by showing them what he believes is the right way to play the game and throwing them into the first team to learn on the job. Some may swim, others will sink but that is fine by Erasmus. In these early days of Munster 2.0, just two competitive games in, the new boss has had to deal with a number of injuries and the absence of frontline Ireland players.
The Musgrave Park defeat on Friday also saw Rory Scannell, Dave Foley and Tommy O’Donnell added to the casualty list. The upshot is that Munster have won away at Scarlets and lost at home to Cardiff but progress will not be measured by the number of victories.
“If we can maximise the potential we have, that’s our target,” Erasmus emphasised. “I think a few young guys almost maximised their potential (Friday) but then the result wouldn’t lead to that. If we were only results driven, we’ll lose perspective on games like this and (won’t) see where we’ve grown and where we went backward That’s not what we’re about.”
That would particularly apply to games like Friday night’s when individual mistakes in defence saw Munster concede three tries and collective naivety could not find a way to stay in front of an experienced and adept visiting side and close out a contest they should have won.
“Defence is guts and blood, attack is confidence. Attack takes time and as the confidence comes the attack will get better,” Erasmus said.
Naturally he was disappointed but he smiled regardless, as would anybody who believes Kipling’s assertion that success and failure are twin imposters.
“You could have easily, from this game, overcome adversity. We could have pulled through and it would have been massive. We blooded some young guys under these circumstances, I will never take that out of the picture just because it was a one-point defeat. Always keep a clear objective. Now you can say Dan (Goggin, the academy centre) has got two games, he has missed a few tackles but next game he will be better. And now you are getting some other experienced guys back and you know who you can bank on and who you can’t bank on.”
Erasmus will have scrum-half Conor Murray and wing/outside centre Keith Earls available for next Saturday’s trip to Newport Gwent Dragons while Tyler Bleyendaal should have recovered from the mild calf strain that sidelined him at the weekend and club captain Peter O’Mahony could make his first appearance since the serious knee injury he suffered at the World Cup 11 months ago.
He will also this week begin work with new signing Jaco Taute, capped three times by the Springboks in 2012 and signed on loan from the Stormers as cover for the stricken Francis Saili and Sammy Arnold. That Taute can play at both inside and outside centre as well as full-back also means he will provide further cover for the more recent losses of Simon Zebo and Rory Scannell.
The trip to Rodney Parade may come soon for a player who arrived last Thursday, Erasmus said, but while the director of rugby said Taute would bring experience he was not steering from his developmental remit.
“He’s a guy who can play 12, 13 and 15 so it’s crucial to build our depth there,” he said of Taute, “but as I said from the beginning, make sure we use what we have here (already), give them a proper chance, give them experience, let them learn from their mistakes, don’t crucify them when they make mistakes. That’s why we put them in there, its the only place they will learn.”
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