Friday 21 July 2017

Rassie Erasmus: Anthony Foley would be so proud of players

Josh Strauss of Glasgow Warriors. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Josh Strauss of Glasgow Warriors. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Munster's fans lingered long after the full-time whistle to savour a feeling that was once so familiar but a year ago seemed to have become part of their past.

Glasgow 12 Munster 14

The two-time champions have rediscovered their love affair with European rugby and after two years of heartbreaking early exits they go into next Saturday's final round knowing that victory over Racing 92 will earn them a home quarter-final.

Stuart Hogg of Glasgow Warriors. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Stuart Hogg of Glasgow Warriors. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There is momentum born of tragedy, true, but there is also the deft touch of Rassie Erasmus who spoke of Anthony Foley in the aftermath of this hard-fought win over Glasgow but was also determined to insist that there was no achievement in reaching a quarter-final, that this is just a step on the journey.

The South African director of rugby has now guided this team to 12 wins in 13 games and even their defeat came thanks to a last-gasp penalty from halfway at Welford Road.

In the past two seasons, their exits have been ignominious. Peter O'Mahony could barely speak after his side were humiliated by Saracens in 2015, while Foley looked a haunted man as he tried to explain another devastating loss to Stade Francais a year ago.

This time, the scene was very different. Television cameras picked up the captain sharing a celebratory kiss with CJ Stander in a buoyant dressing-room, while the hero of the hour Francis Saili was given a rapturous reception by the travelling fans who made their presence felt at the venue on a fraught, tetchy occasion.

Peter O’Mahony with the support of his Munster team-mate CJ Stander is tackled by Josh Strauss and Ali Price, right, of Glasgow Warriors. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony with the support of his Munster team-mate CJ Stander is tackled by Josh Strauss and Ali Price, right, of Glasgow Warriors. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It was like old times, but with a new man at the helm and a team containing just two players with Heineken Cup medals in their pockets, this is a different era.

"I don't want to say something that sounds like we have achieved something already," Erasmus said. "But one of the team targets was to win more games than we did last year. I think Axel would be so proud tonight, you know, that we actually went through and we won our pool. We'll start on Monday and see how far we can get now."

Always even-tempered in the aftermath of victory or defeat, it is easy to forget just how fresh all of these experiences are for Erasmus who spoke before a ball was kicked about how Munster would be the soft touch in Pool 1.

Fourth seeds after a disappointing and dispirited Guinness Pro12 campaign last year, it was hard to argue but they have capitalised on under-performances by Racing 92 and Leicester and edged out a good Glasgow Warriors side to book a first quarter-final spot since 2014.

Lee Jones of Glasgow Warriors in action against Andrew Conway of Munster. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Lee Jones of Glasgow Warriors in action against Andrew Conway of Munster. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

They are exceeding everybody's expectations but their coach's.

"I didn't know what to expect to be honest with you," Erasmus said of his first Champions Cup campaign.

"I didn't know the players well, I didn't know my assistant coaches well, I didn't know Ireland or Limerick well. We moved into a new High Performance Centre and that's why I said at our first meeting that our challenge is to take what we've got as coaches and players and maximise the potential and we'll see where we'll get.

Maximise

"We'll really maximise that and if we qualify for the quarter-finals then I would have taken it. It's a really great group of players with a great work ethic. I had mixed thoughts about the pool because I didn't know anybody here before I came.

"It's satisfying to see that we've got quality players and management team to get us this far and now the challenge is to see how far we can go."

Alex Dunbar of Glasgow Warriors is tackled by Simon Zebo of Munster. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Alex Dunbar of Glasgow Warriors is tackled by Simon Zebo of Munster. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Glasgow can still join Munster and Leinster in the quarter-finals if they can beat Leicester Tigers on Saturday, but they were left devastated by their inability to turn their possession and territory into a victory.

Gregor Townsend was gracious in defeat, claiming the better team won but even Erasmus wasn't quite buying that.

At times, his side were just hanging in there at Scotstoun but their remarkable defensive effort provided yet another shut-out and every time Finn Russell or Stuart Hogg kicked a penalty, Munster found a reply.

For most of the match, that entailed a Tyler Bleyendaal penalty but the final flourish came courtesy of Saili who struck for the winning try with eight minutes on the clock, finishing well after Simon Zebo and Keith Earls combined brilliantly.

After that, they trusted their defence against a Glasgow side reduced to 14 men after Stuart Hogg's yellow card. It held firm, they march on and a win over Racing on Saturday will set them up.

"The players did well, and they deserve credit but I can see in their eyes they know that come Monday we will be playing Racing next week and some guys are going to be going into Ireland international games and the guys are talking about how we mustn't lose our cohesiveness when we get back," Erasmus concluded. "We've then got Pro12 in the meantime, the boys are definitely not looking at this and saying something is achieved. It is something achieved, but the target is a little bit further."

GLASGOW WARRIORS -- S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett (N Grigg 63), A Dunbar, L Jones; F Russell, A Price; G Reid (A Allan 78), F Brown (P McArthur 62), Z Fagerson (D Rae 78); T Swinson, J Gray (capt); R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss (C Fusaro 68).

MUNSTER - S Zebo (I Keatley 74); A Conway, J Taute (F Saili 58), R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray (D Williams 65-71 HIA); D Kilcoyne (J Cronin 49), N Scannell (R Marshall 67), J Ryan (T du Toit 61); J Kleyn (B Holland 55), D Ryan; P O'Mahony (capt) (D Foley 74), J O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.

Ref - L Pearce (RFU)

 

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