Sunday 19 November 2017

Barritt relishing another crack at old foe Erasmus

Brad Barritt. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Brad Barritt. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

In Saracens' analysis on Munster this week, their captain's voice will have been heard that bit louder than normal as he offers a key insight into what it is like to play against a team coached by Rassie Erasmus.

Sure, plenty of the Sarries players were involved when the sides last met a couple of years ago, but Munster are a different beast now - and Brad Barritt understands that more than others.

Before Barritt arrived in England nine years ago, he had forged a reputation as a bruising centre but he was unable to take that next step into the Springboks fold.

Playing Super Rugby with the Sharks, Barritt regularly came up against Erasmus' Cheetahs and later the Stormers.

Each encounter was more physical than the next, and several years later, Barritt can see plenty of similarities between what Erasmus did in his home country and what he is doing with Munster.

In another world, the pair's careers might have worked out a whole lot differently.

Had Erasmus got the head coach job in South Africa at a time when many felt he deserved it, you get the impression that a player like Barritt in his prime would have suited him perfectly.

Read more: 'I've too much hunger to wait for window of opportunity'

In Munster, Jaco Taute, another quality South African centre, has earned himself the self-explanatory nickname of the 'The Minister of Defence'. Barritt plays a similar role for his side.

But Barritt's Springbok dream never materialised. International honours at underage level and with the Emerging Boks had been achieved but when Saracens came calling in 2008, a few months later he was lining out for the England Saxons before going on to win 26 caps for the senior team, for whom he qualified through his parents.

At the Aviva tomorrow, Barritt will line out against an Erasmus-coached team for the first time since he left his home country.

"Rassie is obviously brilliant," Barritt says of his compatriot. "He has been hugely successful and is admired all across the world. He has a great understanding and feel for the game.

"I have great respect for him as coach, a man and a leader. You can see the great work he has done with Munster already."

The constant speculation back home about South Africa trying to get Erasmus back in their system has come as no surprise to Barritt.

"The Springboks would love to have him," he says.

Closer to Barritt's adopted home, another coach continues to enhance his reputation as one of the shrewdest in Europe, or the world, as his skipper suggests.

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Now in his eighth year with Saracens, Mark McCall has turned the English and European champions into a fearsome outfit who are no longer just bosh merchants.

The former Ireland centre doesn't always get the credit he deserves in this country but Barritt believes that he would be an ideal replacement for Joe Schmidt when the Kiwi likely returns home after the World Cup in 2019.

"Mark is the rock and he is at the core of everything good about Saracens," the 30-year-old says.

"The best thing about Mark is that he has an unbelievable rugby brain that is widely admired across the rugby world.

"Mark is one of best coaches in world rugby at the moment. I'm sure he would be an unbelievable international coach."

Munster may be in a better place going into tomorrow's semi-final than they were when they last met Saracens but so too are the English side, thanks to McCall.

Barritt has watched Erasmus and another South African in Jacques Nienaber turn Munster's fortunes around but he also points to the emotional factor that has helped get them back to the top table.

"They are playing in (Anthony Foley's) honour. You can see a band of brothers who are really playing for each other. Their intensity and fight is bringing an extra edge to all parts of their game. That's been the overwhelming trait of this Munster team."

And that indeed is something that his old foe Erasmus can take a huge amount of credit for.

Irish Independent

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