Saturday 22 July 2017

'We didn't talk too much sense at half-time' - Erasmus hopes he has learned from mistakes of Scarlets loss

Munster boss Erasmus aims to redeem errors in Scarlets' Thomond raid

Rassie Erasmus is determined to give Munster's loyal supporters a winning finale to the season Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Rassie Erasmus is determined to give Munster's loyal supporters a winning finale to the season Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Even the steadiest of minds can occasionally falter.

Most observers agree that Rassie Erasmus has always managed to strike the perfect pitch of emotion during this often unnatural season, rarely struggling to find the right words.

A stranger in a strange land speaking in a foreign tongue has become as native as the natives themselves.

But Erasmus has admitted this week that even he has felt the ground shifting beneath his feet, revealing with admirable self-reproach how a mis-guided half-time team talk earlier this season exposed his side's vulnerability.

That it occurred when his side were seemingly coasting to Thomond Park success against this weekend's Guinness PRO12 final opponents, Scarlets, sharpens the focus as his team seek to end a tumultuous campaign with silverware.

Four months ago, his side led 21-6 against the Welsh outfit but succumbed 30-21 in a blistering turnaround which culminated in a first home defeat to the Scarlets since 2003.

"We actually found a way to get back into that game," he recalls. "When we were 21-6 up I must take half of the blame because we didn't talk too much sense at half-time.

"You know they got three tries in eight or 10 minutes and it happened to Leinster this weekend, they got two tries a matter of five, six minutes. You know in that game we really got back into it, got into scoring positions.

"It wasn't as if we got all stuck about what are we going to do next, they just really defended well and turned us over at the breakdown really well.

"As I said a few times it is only the Cardiff and the Leinster away games that have been embarrassing in a sense that we didn't try to find a way back into the game. In that specific game we did find ways, we just couldn't finish it.

"I wouldn't say it was arrogance, but when you're 21-6 up, sometimes you say the stupidest things where you have seen what you did right and did wrong in the first half, those are the things. Everybody makes mistakes and we said some wrong things at half-time at 21-6. That wind that we played with in the first-half was much stronger than the 21-6 we were up.

"We had actually to change our tactics, which we didn't, which was obviously half our fault.

Stupid

"If you want to play against a strong wind like that you can just say two or three things, you must say the right things at half-time. It was just stupid things I said, it's not end of the world."

At least, unlike Leinster, who were similarly rapt by the headlights in the RDS last weekend, Munster had time to recover their PRO12 assault, emerging atop the pile and, presumably, sourcing relief at having to avoid a renewal with the dangerous West Walians until the final.

Erasmus has freely admitted to an ignorance of much of what the challenges of the PRO12 entailed but his side have managed to negotiate the regular season as table-toppers and are now just 80 minutes from completing it by becoming champions. "The PRO 12, for me, is the competition the season ticket holders pay for," says Erasmus. "That's the thing you have to be consistent for all year.

"You lose players to internationals, injuries, it's a long season of 22 matches and you play different styles - you play a Welsh team and then an Italian team.

"It's such an interesting competition, so when you get to a final the trick is to understand totally how the opposition is playing. Because one week it's Treviso, then Ulster, then Ospreys. Comparing what we faced against Ospreys to this week is a totally different style."

The key this weekend, presumably, will be to learn the lessons of their provincial rivals' defeat last weekend - engage the breakdown with numbers, more ferocity and accuracy as well as playing more directly. Munster will not change their tactical stratagem; that will develop more in pre-season and they will again start with Francis Saili on the bench. For now, what has been sufficient unto their season thus far will suffice.

"I think we play very similarly. Scarlets, I think, have the second-most runs in the competition and a lot of kicking. They changed it from the first few games they play. Tactically a well-coached team and you can see they're on a run of unbelievable results.

"After they beat us here, they went and got a good smack off Leinster. Then now they go and beat Leinster with 14 men. They've changed their tactics through the season. We'll stick to our guns. We only know one way to play which has worked for us. Again I'd be talking nonsense if I am saying that doesn't give you confidence for the next season if we win this title.

"Players learn from losing without a doubt, coaches learn from losing but young players, the Scannells (Rory and Niall), Darren Sweetnam and Dan Goggins who all been part of this, not all of them will be involved this weekend but it gives you a little bit of a springboard.

"It doesn't seem like a dream, winning a title. The team has made it and we could actually win it. It's the same for Scarlets. Yes it would be a wonderful for the club."

Steady minds will need to navigate the big moments, much better than they managed against an admittedly far superior Saracens' outfit.

"I know pressure and understand there are big moments in a game. It's probably a bit of a cliché, but big moments turn play-off rugby.

"Against Saracens, we had 10 minutes just before half-time when we were on their try-line and could have scored to turn the pressure around.

"To be honest, I don't think it's a technical and tactical thing we learned, it's more a mind thing. We applied it on Saturday and we'll definitely need it this Saturday."

Irish Independent

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