Johan ‘Rassie’ Erasmus will have to act fast in order to stem Munster’s decline.
Make no mistake about it, the appointment of Johan Erasmus as Munster’s new director of rugby is one of the most important decisions taken by the province during the professional era.
Faced with declining attendances, consecutive pool stage exits in the European Rugby Champions Cup, and the stark reality that Munster are now ranked as Ireland’s fourth province, Garrett Fitzgerald (CEO) and the province’s top brass have been forced into making an appointment that didn’t seem likely only a few short months ago.
Indeed, when it was initially reported that Munster were set to renew Anthony Foley’s contract, fans met the news with scepticism. Since then however, not only were the province embarrassed by 14 man Stade Francias, but they now face two must win games in order to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup.
Therefore, the appointment of Erasmus cannot come soon enough. Nevertheless, the task facing the South African is substantial.
On the field, Munster look short on confidence, while off the field their financial issues have once more come to the fore, after Gerry Thornley yesterday reported in the Irish Times that the province are set to post losses of €2.5 million this year.
As a result, not only will Erasmus have to deliver improved performances and results, but do so at a time when resources are not readily available.
1. Appoint A New Coaching Staff
In retrospect, appointing Anthony Foley and surrounding him with an inexperienced coaching group was a mistake. At no point over the last two seasons did it look like Munster were making massive improvements to their game.
Brain Walsh in particular has come in for serious criticism, as Munster’s back line failed to demonstrate much creativity or cutting edge during that period.
Consequently, it is massively important that Erasmus make an appointment that can take full advantage of players such as Rory Scannell, Francis Saili, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo.
Given that both Erasmus and Foley are ostensibly forwards coaches, it is crucial that both their roles are clearly defined. Otherwise, the new set up will become the ‘recipe for disaster’ predicted by Tony Ward in the Irish Independent.
The addition of Jacques Nienaber as defence coach will be welcomed, and leaves Erasmus needing to find replacements for Jerry Flannery and Ian Costello as scrum and skills coach respectively.
2. Clear The Deadwood From The Squad
For some time now Munster’s recruitment policy has been open to question. Over the course of the last number of seasons, each of their non Irish qualified players have not made the desired impact.
Although Tyler Bleyendaal has been unlucky with injury, should Munster persist with a player who has only made five appearances for the province? Despite Gerhard van den Heever’s undoubted pace, he has struggled to make an impression.
Mark Chisholm has not impressed since joining the province last summer, while the likes of Dave O’Callaghan, Robin Copland, Duncan Williams, and Denis Hurley have not progressed beyond being squad players for a number of seasons.
While some players may need a new voice in the dressing room to drive them to success, others should ultimately be released at the earliest possible opportunity.
3. Player Recruitment
Although Munster are restricted by their financial position, it is imperative that they sign a replacement for BJ Botha, cover for Tommy O’Donnell and an experienced fly half.
Therefore Erasmus will have to make thrall through his own networks and connections if he is to attain the right players for Munster.
Otherwise, next season the South African coach will be looking at a scenario whereby he will have to pick from either John Andress or Stephen Archer at tight head, hope that Tommy O’Donnell does not suffer a major injury and do his best to return Ian Keatley’s confidence.
4. Improve Munster’s Basic Skills
In the aftermath of their defeats to Leinster and Connacht, commentators were quick to highlight Munster’s inability to consistently create line breaks and identify space.
In both games Munster were predicable, with the manner of Connacht’s victory only serving to demonstrate the widening skills gap between the provinces.
If Munster are even to compete for the Pro 12, Erasmus will first have to spend time a lot of time on the training field remedying this issue.
5. Return Some Positivity To Munster
This season has been particularly difficult for Munster fans to deal with. The five consecutive defeats during November and December, followed by the 27-7 loss against 14 man Stade Francais being the low point.
Although some fans have attempted to remain positive, declining attendances and slow season ticket sales are indicative of supporters who are losing faith in their team. The fallout following the ironic cheers that greeted Ian Keatley’s substitution against the Leicester Tigers only served to create a divide between Munster and their fans.
Consequently, it is imperative that Munster hit the ground running under Erasmus next season.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
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