Friday 18 October 2019

Erasmus urging Thomond faithful to pump up volume

Rassie Erasmus is facing into a busy Christmas period with Munster Picture: Sportsfile
Rassie Erasmus is facing into a busy Christmas period with Munster Picture: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Given all Rassie Erasmus has been through in the short time he has been in Ireland, it's easy to forget he's still getting used to life on this island and the customs that go with it.

As a man long used to high performance environments, he quickly felt at home in the Munster set-up, but the quirkier aspects of Irish life are still taking some getting used to.

Take Christmas for example. The former Springbok is used to the long days and hot sun of a South African summer at this time of year and, as a result, the run-in to the big day doesn't seem to be such a big deal.

December is close season for rugby in the Southern Hemisphere too, so the big inter-provincial clashes that await him in the coming fortnight are new. It's all part of the overseas experience.

"We're not used to building it up so long in South Africa," Erasmus says, his face expressing a certain bemusement with the Irish obsession with the festive season. "It's great, my children and my wife are loving it and I am also loving it, so ja, I'm glad to be here."

For all the anticipation, there will be no dwelling on Christmas for the Munster director of rugby, who has the small matter of a derby game against a Leinster on St Stephen's Day.


His first experience of the rivalry ended in a comprehensive 25-14 defeat and, after back-to-back losses to their neighbours last season there will be a determination in Munster to end a run of derby defeats.

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While there was a big crowd at the Aviva Stadium for that outing, Erasmus wasn't fully able to appreciate the atmosphere. With the sold-out signs up at Thomond Park, Monday's game should give him more of an idea of what the rivalry can generate.

"The first one at the Aviva was a weird one for me. There was a lot of people, but we were sitting in a sound-proof coaches' box. It's the first time I've experienced that," he explained. "You couldn't feel it at all, it was almost like watching a game on television without commentary.

"So, it was difficult for me to get the vibe, but certainly up until getting to the stadium. . . the whole week building up, from the warm-up and afterwards when we're out of the coaches' box and us being out-played for the last 15-20 minutes, having been so in the match until James Cronin's try was disallowed, and then they went and scored. . .

"It's definitely a big occasion; everybody is looking forward to it.

"Last weekend, despite the loss, the atmosphere in Leicester was also something special to be part of. It was something new, it felt very intense there. When Leinster are here hopefully it will be the same kind of atmosphere."

A strong Munster performance would help create that atmosphere and the dilemma for Erasmus centres on how to use his internationals.

The IRFU's player management scheme kicks in at this time of year and, while the big crowds might deserve the best players, the looming Six Nations dictates that the Ireland stars must be rested over the Christmas period.

Leinster have more internationals and also perhaps have a little more wriggle-room. Between their meetings with Ulster on New Year's Eve and Montpellier two weeks later, they face Zebre in the Guinness Pro12 and that affords Leo Cullen an opportunity to manage more minutes.

Munster, meanwhile, take on Racing 92 away on the first weekend in January, which means Erasmus has little leeway when it comes to resting players.

Given his previous role before joining Munster was as South Africa's high performance director, he has experienced the shoe being on the other foot and isn't complaining about the situation which he takes as a fact of his life with Munster.

"We have guidelines from the IRFU that are communicated to all the provinces," he said of the player management scheme.

"They don't tell us specifically for any game, more over a stretch of time, so many games. It's not a surprise to us, from the beginning we've had to manage things around this.

"Up until now it has been going well, it happened in November just after the Test matches, that first game back against Glasgow we did the same and hopefully we'll be able to handle that.

"I think we must try and spread it around over the two matches. It looks like we're in the fortunate position to be able to spread it but then sometimes you might spread it and lose both games, so you want to make sure you do the right thing. We haven't quite made up our minds yet.

"It would be stupid to play the players nine games in a row and that's the reason behind Joe (Schmidt), David Nucifora and the IRFU (stance).

"You always say the next game is more important - and the next game is more important because jobs are on the line and supporters are wanting you to win, so it's good that we do it that way."

Erasmus is on an even keel after watching his side suffer a last-gasp defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, just their third loss of his tenure.

He insists that the result hasn't cast much of a cloud on preparations.

"We try not to let results get us carried away, rather it's the way we played," he said.

"Their (Tigers') kick might not have been over, we would have won and that would have masked over maybe a few problems that were in the game.

"But luckily the boys are pretty determined to analyse the actual performance and not just look at the scoreboard. There was disappointment because there were a lot of things we didn't do right."

Correcting those errors will be the key focus this week as Leinster loom into view. By 7.00 on St Stephen's night, Erasmus will know a lot more about Irish rugby's Christmas traditions.

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