Thursday 17 August 2017

Munster on hunt for some prime Springbok beef

Erasmus keen to buy Irish but will scour his native South Africa for forward options with province '95pc' close to finalising squad

Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Munster Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Munster didn't want this weekend off but, as with anything in life, they must deal with the reality as best they can while the rest of Europe waits to hail its club champions on Saturday.

The southern province cannot afford to kick their heels for long; instead, they must kick on in an attempt to ensure that next year they can take a step further at the highest level.

"You create your own reality," says director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, who could himself be talking about anything in life.

He is actually chatting about the upcoming Guinness PRO12 semi-final against Ospreys, where they are expected to offer much more than on that most recent appearance in a home last-four tie against Saracens.

Premature

Or else the players will face an unexpectedly premature end to their season. Nevertheless, two home semi-final defeats would represent a stunning success this term.

European defeat measured the gulf that still separates themselves from the continental top shelf; as usual in these parts, they are guilty of underestimating their worth compared to others.

Even if Munster progress - and possibly even win - the PRO12 title in late May, Erasmus will not down his tools as he continues the ceaseless tinkering with a playing squad that is woefully thin in comparison to their semi-final rivals in both competitions.

At Christmas, he told us in Galway that more weeding may need to be effected before any lush growth occurred; by that stage, the mini-saga of Jaco Taute's short-term future had not been fully realised.

In the midst of a then scarcely credible run of form following October tragedy, Erasmus bluntly sharpened his assessment of the entire squad at his disposal.

"There is certainly a lot of potential but we will still make a lot of mistakes with these young guys," he told a few of us, moments before 2016 met 2017, after a wintry win in Galway.

"In the next two or three years if we trim down our squad and get some of the guys who are not performing out of the system, and start boosting some of these young guys I think that's the way we go.

"There is great potential in the group of 43 plus the academy boys, which we must make sure we handle correctly."

A lot of folk in UL, clustered beneath the regular first-team squad, may have already learned their fate.

There is always hope. Few would have expected Ian Keatley to remain but it now seems that he may, despite JJ Hanrahan's return.

His retention makes more sense if the temptation - and tempting - will see Francis Saili earn his corn elsewhere, meaning that Taute can stay.

Losing an Irish international playmaker would have been careless for a club who need to expand their football horizons; coughing up an All Black too would be hazardous in the extreme.

The Donnacha Ryan farrago dealt Munster a gut-wrenching blow in more ways than one; Dave Foley is also gone; presumably, Jean Deysel will also go.

Erasmus is already exploring options - not surprisingly the tastiest low-lying fruit may be found on home soil. And while he is at it, he may also unfurl a tighthead to take some of the load off John Ryan.

Money - or rather the lack of it - plus the realisation that the IRFU won't allow them to do a repeat of the Saili/Taute saga at Christmas, may limit the options unless they can say the magic word: project.

"We have a few gaps we have to fill," said Erasmus (pictured) on the weekend of the Guinness PRO12 awards, confirming that Munster's main priorities will be to shore up their front five.

"We're 95 per cent there, we have to get the balance right at second-row. There are guys like Darren O'Shea who are putting their hand up and guys like Dave O'Callaghan can help us out there.

"Billy Holland is there, Jean Kleyn too. But with Donnacha and Dave Ryan moving on, young Sean O'Connor and Fineen Wycherley coming through, we probably need a solid signing there which I'm currently trying to do.

"We'd like to bolster a little bit more in the front-row and maybe at loose forward.

Foreign

"But in saying that we'd have a lot of Irish guys in mind because we only have a certain amount of foreign spots and only a certain amount of money. I would say we're 95 per cent there."

Erasmus, who also affirmed that there will be no addition to his coaching staff, admits that mid-May is not an ideal time of the year to be conducting ones ins and outs.

Having been recruited himself in order to recruit others, his sudden, full-time emergence on the training pitch on a daily basis from October reflects how this season has altered all perspective.

"It is a difficult time of the year, we've been doing it the whole year but I guess if we were playing a European Cup final it would have been even more tough," he says, sanguinely, of a role which complements, rather than compromises, him.

"At least we've a bit of an admin week this week. I wasn't supposed to be so much on the field when I came here but I'm pretty much on the field every day.

"Weeks like this when you don't play a match, but you still train, gives you a chance to catch up on those things."

Irish Independent

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