Tuesday 17 September 2019

Rassie Erasmus: Johann van Graan is used to massive pressure

Keith Earls showcases his acrobatic skills during Munster’s training session at the University of Limerick yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Keith Earls showcases his acrobatic skills during Munster’s training session at the University of Limerick yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster head coach Johann van Graan. Photo: Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Munster's players met their soon-to-be boss yesterday morning, before the current supremo began preparing them for Saturday's must-win meeting with Racing 92 at Thomond Park.

Johann van Graan will be among the spectators at the weekend as he concludes his visit and the next time he is in the stadium he'll be in the coaching box, taking charge.

In the meantime, Rassie Erasmus is steering the ship and his job is to ensure that Munster are in a commanding position when his compatriot takes over.

Such is the flux that the province find themselves in as their season steps up in terms of pressure. A draw in Castres was a decent weekend's work, but it will be worth very little if Ronan O'Gara and the Parisians leave with the spoils on Saturday.

Erasmus's departure date is subject to the granting of a work permit for Van Graan and the new man feeling fully comfortable in his new role.

Regardless, the former Springbok says he will have no involvement with Allister Coetzee's men who play Ireland on November 11 - rather he'll return to his homeland to begin his new role.

This week will afford Van Graan the opportunity to get the lie of the land as he also sorts out the logistics of his move.

"He's here to observe this week. He's in and around," Erasmus said.

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"We're making sure he meets all the players, and to see how our coaching set-up works, how weeks are planned, and meet all the various other departments to observe how we do things.

"When his work permit is successful he'll know everyone and not spend the first four or five days when he's in the job just finding his feet.

"We're trying to let him find his feet now while observing and his wife and his children are over here. They're looking for a place to stay, those kinds of things, which helps."

Taking in Thomond Park on a European Saturday evening against French opposition should give the new man a good taste of what his new job is all about.

Van Graan comes into the role with no head coaching experience, but Erasmus has no concerns.

"He's been under pressure situations in his life," he said. "When he coached with the Bulls, in those days with 15 or 16,000 people at a match, and if you lose sometimes there's then 2,000 people.

"Sometimes it works in a cut-throat way in South Africa in certain provinces. So he's used to massive pressure.

"He's been involved with the Springboks when they lost by two points in a World Cup semi-final to the All Blacks, but they lost to Japan and they had to turn that around, and then they went on to the semi-finals and lost by two points to the All Blacks.

"Five weeks ago they lost to the All Blacks by 57 points and they managed to handle that pressure and come back and lose by one point.

"So I don't think the pressure will get to him. He's a really level-headed, cool guy. The new thing is just to pretty quickly understand the culture and the players."

Although both men can speak English, Erasmus admitted that coaching primarily in their second language is a real challenge.

"It is definitely something you have to adapt to, especially for Afrikaners like myself," he said with a smile.

"Sometimes you're just trying to get the English words and then sometimes these guys are taking the p*** out of you. So you get used to that."

While he is helping Van Graan find his way, the main item on Erasmus's agenda this week is preparing the team and he knows he has a big job on his hands given the task his side face this weekend.

Although they lost the corresponding fixtures home and away last season, Racing look an improved force this week and were impressive in last Saturday's victory over Leicester Tigers.

With Dan Carter likely to be back and Leone Nakarawa looking sensational with his all-singing, all-dancing offloading style there are many challenges to be faced.

"Without a doubt we are in for a tough one," Erasmus said. "If we play like we played last weekend we won't get points out of this game.

"We were naive at times, giving them opportunities where there is nothing on for us to try and take out certain positions on the field or circumstances and we just pushed our luck a little bit there.

"If we do that against Racing, we won't get any points out of the game. So we will have to have a massive step up."

Although he is registered to play in Europe, highly-rated new signing Chris Cloete is unlikely to feature this weekend after arriving from South Africa after finishing up with the Pumas.

"I'll probably see when we get him into the mix in our training sessions, our game-plan, getting used to the names of players, those kind of things. Probably in one of the Pro14 games coming up we'll get him in," Erasmus said.

"He's small, very much in the Dave Pockock and Michael Hooper mould - an out-and-out openside flanker. He'll definitely bring a threat at the breakdown for this team."

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