Friday 15 December 2017

Love affair with a red shirt leaves centre in a quandary

The Big Interview: Jaco Taute

Jaco Taute has left an indelible mark since joining Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
Jaco Taute has left an indelible mark since joining Munster. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

When Jaco Taute first arrived in Munster earlier this season, no one could have expected the imprint he would leave on the Munster landscape by the following April.

His impact has been extraordinary, and having originally just come in as injury cover for Munster's threadbare midfield, where Francis Saili and Sam Arnold had long-term injuries, the three-time-capped Springbok has taken Munster to his heart - but it remains to be seen if he can stay on past the end of the season.

The fans and the club have given their all to Taute too. He was struggling with injuries prior to his arrival in Limerick.

But with 19 appearances for the province, and eight tries, if he returns to South Africa it will be as a reborn player.

Taute has already spoken about how Munster has tugged on his heart-strings and how he wishes to stay on for another season, but he channels that passion in the right direction.

"Limerick is a small community which makes it nice. It is peaceful and quiet, and coming from somewhere like Cape Town it's completely different.

"There is such history and tradition in Munster and it's nice to be associated with such a cool brand. There has been a lot of hard work put into the jersey.

"To get where it is today it took a lot of hard work, and it's our job to take it further."

Taute lives in Castletroy along with another South African, Jean Kleyn. The South Africans have had a huge influence on Munster - CJ Stander has been immense this season and the last, and Rassie Erasmus has also been instrumental in the transformation.

Munster were on the brink of missing out on Champions Cup rugby nearing the end of last season, before they just edged automatic qualification and now they stand 80 minutes from a dream final.

But to get there they had to produce more brilliance, and Taute was the heartbeat of Munster's wonderful 41-16 victory over Toulouse last weekend.

"It was magical. It was a really special occasion. It was great to get the victory. And the crowd was insane and everyone enjoyed it," says Taute.

"That atmosphere was pretty close up there with the one that we played for Axel, against Glasgow because of different reasons of course.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game. They came here to play. But we knew if we could withhold that pressure we would crack them in the end, and it all went to plan."

The Munster fans continue to amaze Taute, even after nearly a full season in Limerick. And he can never get tired of hearing that Munster roar on game-day, it's something he will cherish even when he leaves in the summer.

Effect "We sometimes struggle to make that sound in South Africa because of the size of the stadiums. It is difficult to get that same effect in the bigger 55,000-seater stadiums. But with all of the Munster fans that love the province, in the smaller stadium, they create a cool effect.

"If it is anything to go by they will fill the Aviva with red, and I'm sure all of the guys are really amped for that one too."

It will be an awesome occasion in Dublin on April 22 when Europe's very best travel over to face an in-form Munster side who will leave it all on the pitch once again.

Saracens have been unstoppable once again this season and their South African influence makes them a very similar opponent. The two teams could cancel each other out, but that just adds to the intrigue surrounding this fixture.

But that game is on the back-burner for the Munster players right now.

Everyone wants to be fit and in peak condition for the semi-final, but they know the Guinness Pro12 is what's important right now.

"There is still a few games to go before we get to Saracens. We have to shift our focus to the Pro12 now with a few games in that competitive. But then we do have the semi-final. We will take care of these matches and then everything points to Dublin.

"I watched the Saracens-Glasgow game at home. I just watched it neutrally and I wanted to see how the two teams played against each other.

"Saracens were extremely good and they are going to be a tough team to beat. They have been the top team in this competition and we will have to improve in every aspect to beat them. If you want to be the best you have to compete against the best so that will be a great benchmark playing against them."

To beat Saracens would be another fantastic achievement for Munster this season, and if Taute is involved it will be an added bonus with a Champions Cup final to come.

He could even have two deciders to play in, if Munster can get their cards right, and use their players wisely to guide them through to a Pro12 final.

Taute has been part of an amazing year at Munster Rugby but there still could be a lot more where that came from.

"It is amazing, you couldn't ask for a better year. I don't think you would ever want to change a winning formula.

"Everything is going so well at the moment. Time flies, so I am trying to enjoy every single moment and take everything in.

"I have made some very good friends, especially with everything we have been through this year. A bunch of good guys."

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