All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick has backed Rassie Erasmus to quickly acclimatise to the life and culture of Munster Rugby as he bids to lift the Irish province back to Europe’s top table.
After five seasons without a trophy since Tony McGahan steered them to the 2011 Magners League title, Munster this summer brought in Erasmus from his role as general manager of high performance at the South African Rugby Union to be Munster’s first director of rugby.
Former New Zealand hooker and captain Fitzpatrick, now a director at Harlequins, believes former Springbok flanker Erasmus can succeed where predecessors Rob Penney and Anthony Foley failed if he first adapts to the Munster culture.
Warning against the failure of even world-class coaches to assimilate into their new clubs and the competitions they play in, Sky Sports analyst Fitzpatrick cited the example of Tom Coventry’s ill-starred reign at London Irish, when the New Zealander arrived in the English Premiership having won two Super Rugby titles with the Chiefs only to preside over their relegation last season, and resign in June after reports of a player revolt.
“I know Rassie quite well and he has a very good rugby brain. He’s very well skilled in terms of the coaching process he’s gone through and he’s got international experience. The challenge he’ll have is fitting into the culture of Munster,” Fitzpatrick told the Irish Examiner.
“It’s the same as successful Kiwi coaches that come over here, the Tom Coventrys of the world, who signed for London Irish. I was saying to them, ‘you guys have got the best coach in New Zealand at the moment’ but he just didn’t realise the pressure you come under.
“Hopefully Rassie’s addressed that and I’m sure the interview process will have taken him through that and what’s expected and what’s needed. South Africans are very similar to the Kiwis, they’re very demanding and he’ll expect a lot from the players and they’ll have a different work ethic than maybe they’ve had in the past.
“But Munster needs to get back to where they were and that’s not just pulling on the jersey. I’ve been in clubs where players turn up thinking they can pull on the jersey and they’re going to be Ronan O’Gara overnight. Well that doesn’t happen, it’s hard work. I think Rassie realises that and he’ll be under pressure, as was the Kiwi that was there before, Rob Penney.
“It’s a tough environment to go into and if they’re going to sack anyone they’re going to sack the foreigner, I tell you. So he’s the guy that’s going to be under pressure and he’ll know that.”
At Test level, Fitzpatrick believes NZRU chief executive Steve Tew is keeping a close eye on developments is fellow New Zealander Joe Schmidt’s career path. Schmidt is currently considering his future as Ireland head coach beyond the end of his contract which expires next June, with family health issues at the forefront of his decision whether or not to return to his homeland.
“From a rugby point of view, if he was to say he’s going back at the end of this season I’d say the Steve Tews of the world have tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘look, if you want to be the [All Blacks] coach post-2019 you’ve got to be in the New Zealand system’, which I think is good.
“And in sending these guys away, ‘go and learn, come back to us when you’re ready’, you know, Jamie Joseph’s going off to Japan, Dave Rennie [to Glasgow next season], Joe Schmidt, it’s wonderful coaching in Ireland but I think you really want to coach in your own country. I’m sure Conor O’Shea will be thinking ‘OK, I’ll get a bit of international experience with Italy and then hopefully the Ireland job might be available to me’.
“But New Zealand has some great coaches around the world and once again Steve Tew’s done a great job in terms of speaking openly to them and I would imagine he’s spoken to Joe.”
Sky Sports kicks off a bumper season of rugby — which includes live Guinness Pro12, ERCC and Ireland’s autumn internationals — this weekend with exclusive coverage of Scarlets v Munster and Connacht v Glasgow. Sky TV customers can upgrade to Sky Sports for just €20 per month via the red button.
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