Wednesday 22 November 2017

Tony Ward: Munster are facing a mid-season earthquake - how is Erasmus' December departure 'ideal'?

4 September 2017; Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus during Munster rugby squad training at the University of Limerick in Limerick. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
4 September 2017; Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus during Munster rugby squad training at the University of Limerick in Limerick. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Later today in Thomond Park Munster entertain the Cheetahs. After the easiest opening at home to Treviso last week, by seven o'clock this evening last year's beaten PRO12 finalists should be two wins from two and close to top of the new-look Guinness PRO14 table.

Everything will be cool and dandy before back-to-back fixtures away to the Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors.

They are well capable of winning those games and I make no secret of my desire that they do. I wouldn't ever deny a soft spot for the men in red but I am greatly concerned about what has been going on at the province since last April when Rassie Erasmus missed out on a golden opportunity to take the province on to another psychological level.

The refusal to confirm his and Jacques Nienaber's immediate future with Munster told me at that time that despite all Munster Rugby had been through and all the talk about nothing being agreed back in South Africa, the main man, and most probably the duo, were on their way.

The utterings for media and the public were at best disingenuous particularly when talk amongst the players and those closest to Munster Rugby was that Erasmus's move out of Limerick was already sealed - only the timing had to be confirmed.

Now maybe I'm being unfair here but is this not the original case in a rugby context of the tail wagging the dog?

The still Munster head coach was quoted recently as saying "the reason for leaving in December and not the end of the season (back in June) is that the South African season works differently from here.

"December is the ideal goal as we feel it will give everyone time to prepare".

Ideal for who? Forgive the cynicism but this is not about the South African season nor is December remotely close to the "ideal goal" as in the most strategic time to leave. It might be for Erassmus but it sure as hell is not for Munster nor indeed could mid-season be for any sporting entity anywhere.

Like most I wish Erasmus and Nienaber weren't mounting their bikes. They have both been good for Munster Rugby and equally Munster has been good for them. The issue here is the plan of action - or the absence of any declared clear and obvious strategy aside from buying time.

Surely the summer months should have seen a new heavyweight replacement for Erasmus appointed? And if there is someone specific in mind but not yet available then they could have tried Declan Kidney even on a consultative basis or Andy Farrell - be it temporarily or full time. Given that David Nucifora pulls that particular string and that Farrell has and had already worked with Munster, it could have been the right fit.

These six month get-out clauses are a joke with the laugh on the IRFU. Connacht suffered badly with last year's uncertainty surrounding Pat Lam's departure so why are Munster heading up that same road now?

Erasmus has suggested a transition has already begun. "Rather than me doing certain duties we have handed them over to Felix (Jones) and Jerry (Flannery) now and they are overseen by me. Players then get used to that and it should make things easier for the new coach coming in," he said.

Might there not be even the remotest possibility that a new coach coming in will want his own coaching staff, which won't include Jones or Flannery? I sincerely hope that is not the case but were it me taking over from Erasmus, I would want my own management and coaching team alongside me.

It smacks of a potential earthquake at the mid-point of both the PRO14 and Champions Cup competitions.

I make no apologies for repeating this, but why the two-time European Cup winner Kidney couldn't at least have been asked to fill the void is beyond comprehension.

Then Munster would have had the continuity to which the departing coach says he aspires.

When it comes to listening, organising and delegating not to mention that precious commodity called experience, Kidney is at the top of the tree.

The successful and still extremely enthusiastic former Ireland head coach could have been to Munster, even in the interim, what former England head coach Stuart Lancaster has proved for Leinster and to Leo Cullen, Girvan Dempsey and John Fogarty in particular.

Given the guaranteed void under the present arrangement Kidney, the Director of Sport at UCC, would not have been jumping ship mid season.

Maybe at the back of all this there is a plan and it involves Wayne Smith, the hugely valued assistant to Steve Hansen who is stepping back from All Black involvement at the completion of the Southern Hemisphere Championship. This is pure speculation on my part but he is the calibre of coach the Munster brand should be attracting.

The current arrangement does the game in the province, not least the players, a massive disservice.

PS Mark Jones, Communications Manager at EPCR, has rightly taken me to task for my use of tense in relation to Italian involvement in Champions Cup rugby going forward. It is now first past the post for all with the first three in each conference plus the fourth ranked club with most match points to qualify for the 2018/19 competition. Full meritocracy now applies with no guarantee for any country.

Irish Independent

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