Sport Munster Rugby

Sunday 19 January 2020

We won't let history weigh us down - Munster boss Erasmus looking for new heroes

Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber (left), here with Rassie Erasmus
Munster defence coach Jacques Nienaber (left), here with Rassie Erasmus
Rassie Erasmus is upbeat about Munster’s hopes in their upcoming Champions Cup campaign Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

It is not yet a decade since Munster collected two European titles within the space of just three seasons.

Eight years on from that second final win against Toulouse, Munster head to France this weekend to start another campaign, weighed down by the knowledge that they haven't even managed to make the knock-out stages for two seasons.

No pressure, then.

Since Rob Penney's side threw quite an amount of kitchen furniture at all-conquering Toulon three seasons ago, Anthony Foley's men stuttered in successive seasons when attempting to maintain their hardy perennial status as quarter-finalists.

It has been humbling and hurting; now, another overseas coach has been brought in to redress the balance but Rassie Erasmus is not keen on assessing the painful lessons of the past, rather fulfilling positive ideals for the future.

Losing in France last season to Stade Francais, against 14 men for much of the piece, represented the nadir for that campaign but the South African hasn't even glimpsed a second of the footage.

Wallowing in recent hurt just will not cut it for him.

"We try not to look back," he says. "We try to see this as a new season with new players and some new coaching staff and new opposition.

"We're dealing with our own season and we're playing Racing, which is a team we've played before, but if we track too much into the history, you know, where do we stop? How far do you go back?

"We try to really put that stuff behind us, even from weekend to weekend, even from last weekend to this weekend. It's a new battle, new opportunities, new players, new plans.

"It's different stadiums, different players to play against, enjoy it and see how you can win those little individual battles and enjoy the moment.

"It's frustrating when you make out games like this as daunting - that's not why we're in the game, because this is exactly the type of game we want to go and play in to measure yourself against.

"That's the correct motive and so we don't want to go into those negative things in the past. That doesn't enhance our game in any way."

Maintaining that theme, it seems likely that Munster are unlikely to appeal James Cronin's month-long ban for stamping on Leinster scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park in the second half of last weekend's Aviva defeat, their second in six games this term.

Although Erasmus hasn't seen the full written judgement, he remains sanguine.

"Four weeks for the end result of what happened on the pitch, I think let's accept it. I wasn't there with the whole procedure, so for me personally at this stage we will have to take it on the chin and move on."

That mood of acceptance is leavened by his other leading loosehead, Dave Kilcoyne, taking a full part in training at a sun-speckled UL campus yesterday lunchtime, after he successfully completed his return to play protocols following Saturday's concussion.

Kilcoyne is "99pc" and, with Thomas du Toit added to the squad and Brian Scott mentioned as an option on either side, Erasmus reckons his scrum, one of Munster's enduring bright spots of late, is well-enough stocked.

"We are doing well enough there," says Erasmus. "I also feel when a call like that is made, accept it move on. Get the message when you are doing things and let's move on and play with the guys you have.


"It's like an injury, you can lose a guy on Friday because of flu coming into a game. All of the other teams, if you look at Racing 92, and Leinster and all of the teams, they all have injuries and problems.

"You just have to take it, it's the same for everybody. It's not the greatest situation but I have been in worse."

There was less promising news for Keith Earls, who seems unlikely to make the game with his own concussion issues; he was likely to be re-located to the wing, but Andrew Conway may now come in there.

"Keith Earls is a big worry for us for Sunday," says Erasmus, confirming the suspicions that the Ireland star will not be fit. "He also had a head bang so he is a big worry. I am not as confident that he will make it."

Midfield is a critical call, too, with Jaco Taute an interesting, try-scoring replacement last weekend, while Ian Keatley, after a promising cameo, would be an ideal game-changer from the bench to replace Rory Scannell.

A lack of continuity has undermined Munster's efforts to spice up their attack, particularly when contrasted with Racing's slick three-quarters.

But Erasmus sees light at the end of what has been an often stifled attacking threat, which will be orchestrated at fly-half by Tyler Bleyendaal (left) who is now beginning to blossom with a run of games under his belt.

"For the first six games, we only had (Simon) Zebo for one game, so it wasn't really a back three with all the same guys. And the same with our centres," he says.

"I think Tyler Bleyendaal has never actually gone into a game with the same guys on his outside for six weeks. So that's why maybe our timing to get our combinations ready for the first European game is spot on.

"Out of that should flow some nice backline play and back-three play. It's been a little bit stop-start in terms of continuity for us from 12 to 15."

It's a fiendish pool - Glasgow host Leicester in the other game this evening - but Erasmus spies the potential for his side to be perhaps liberated playing away from home.

"Luckily for us it's an away game so nobody expects us to do well," he says. "I am not sure if that's a good or bad thing but maybe there's a little bit of pressure off us."

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