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'We were a write-off when we started' - Erasmus remains proud of Munster

The Munster director of rugby is looking at the positives after a whirlwind season.

“YOU’RE 100% RIGHT, we got smashed today.”

Rassie Erasmus wasn’t hiding from the fact that Munster took a hiding in Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 final, but the South African director of rugby insisted that this season has been one of progress.

Munster’s CJ Stander dejected CJ Stander was dejected at the final whistle. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Erasmus feels Munster have restored some sense of belief in the province and, though the Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Saracens and last weekend’s hammering by the Scarlets were dispiriting, Erasmus says they are on the right track.

Indeed, it’s easy to forget how low expectations around Munster had dipped last summer, after they had scraped into the Champions Cup and missed out on the Pro12 play-offs before Erasmus’ arrival.

While their improvement doesn’t make underperformances like Saturday’s acceptable to them, Munster will take pride in having turned the page this season.

“I have to look at it more realistically and not emotionally, because we’re all emotional if we get thumped in the final like that,” said Erasmus on Saturday.

We were a write-off when we started here. Everyone said it wouldn’t work – myself and Axel will never be able to work together, how can they get a South African guy in and how are they going to believe in one another?

“How can you get Felix Jones in at 29? Jerry Flannery is only 38, where has he coached before? You bring another South African in and people said it would never work.

“Apart from that, people saying it would never work, Anthony passed away… so for me the proudest thing out of this is that people stuck together, back to back, backing one another.

“That’s something to build on, even if you don’t have any skill, because you’re really tight. That was more on the mental side of things.

Tommy O’Donnell, John Ryan and Jean Deysel dejected Munster ended their season in disappointing fashion. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“On the field, to only lose three games out of 22 in the Pro12; that’s belief. To get to a [Champions Cup] semi-final when you were the ‘easy team’ in your pool, we’re not all of a sudden bullet-proof.

“I’m trying to look at those things and think it wasn’t that bad. That’s a stepping stone and hopefully next season we can move forward.”

The Scarlets have set a new standard for the Pro12 in recent weekends, picking up the baton of attacking brilliance from the likes of previous winners Glasgow and Connacht to dismantle Leinster and Munster in the play-offs.

For Erasmus, attack is the clear priority in pre-season, having focused more on defence and Munster’s kicking game last summer.

Again, he believes that solid foundations for further progress are in place and feels that Munster can close the gap on the likes of Scarlets and Saracens, the victors against Munster in their play-off games this season.

“Scarlets will grow a lot after this, they will get some additions. Saracens will grow… we must box clever, we are getting a few additions in and we must have a better pre-season.

“We missed the first three or four weeks of last year’s pre-season because we only joined late.

“There’s a lot of things that play a role, but we’ve got a chance to improve on this season. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t. We will work really hard to try and improve.”

Munster’s head coach Rassie Erasmus Erasmus on the bench during the game. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

And as often tends to be the case with Munster, Erasmus went back to the fans in closing his message after a whirlwind season.

Thomond Park has been a special place again this season and the old familiar bond between players and fans has returned to former heights in Limerick.

Those supporters didn’t get the fairytale ending they were hoping for on Saturday, but Erasmus thanked them for making it an unforgettable season nonetheless.

“We can’t say we’re sorry because I know the guys tried,” said Erasmus. “We are trying to put ourselves into their shoes. Hopefully, they understand that the guys really tried.

“We are disappointed that we couldn’t give more back to them today. That’s the sad thing. We want to say thank you.”

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