Rassie: Felix Jones has already taken over a lot of my coaching duties

‘This is the easy part,’ says CJ Stander, representing a squad who truly know what it means to lose a coach and a mentor.

RASSIE ERASMUS IS leaving Munster. That’s not changing.

So while we could continue trying to unravel the knot that hangs around the South African’s departure – a clump of nine-month notice periods and late-season promises to stay on – perhaps it’s just time to cut the cord.

Next job up, the small matter of a season ahead for Munster. Half of it under Rassie, unless a new head coach comes along to take the reins before December.

A scenario like that would be fine with Erasmus, he insists. And if it takes a little beyond December, he’s fine with that too.

The notice period is a contractual element we’ve all gotten hung up on, but contracts don’t always have to be enforced to the letter if two parties are happy that the spirit of the agreement is being maintained. So the soon-to-be SARU director of rugby and IRFU director of rugby David Nucifora have chosen to be flexible. Perfectly understandable when Rassie is speaking from a room that has just welcomed two South African franchises into what was once the Celtic League. He will have plenty more dealings with Irish rugby in the years ahead.

What’s important to Munster stakeholders now is not who said what and when, it’s how the province can continue to progress.

Early this week, the Limerick Leader’s Donn O’Sullivan reported that Felix Jones (who was appointed as technical coach last season before expanding his responsibilities as time wore on) was the front-runner to take hold of the reins in January after a recommendation from Erasmus. And the former Springbok didn’t need further prompting to bring up the name of the youngest coach on his ticket when pondering the province’s immediate future yesterday.

Rassie Erasmus James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“If Munster get the right coach. If Munster are happy the right coach is here and he is comfortable that I’ve handed over (he would leave).

“Some guys would want me to go immediately, some coaches: ‘why are you still here man? I’m now the coach’. Some guys would say, ‘listen, can you hang around for two or three weeks and give us a proper hand-over?’ It might be in stages.

I coach certain aspects of the game, but Felix took over most of them actually last season already. I was overseeing it and he was really growing quickly into that role. It might be a coach that does defence as well and Jacques (Nienaber) might leave earlier.

“My priority (is) when Munster is okay. Of course they are allowing me to go (but) they could have said, “stay, you’ve got a contract”.

It’s well-trodden ground, but if Munster did go down the interim coach route, what the appointment may lack in experience and international recognition, he would more than make up for in a continuity of purpose.

Last season, Erasmus often spoke candidly about the need to build on Munster’s gameplan, expand their offering in attack to fully capitalise on the solid fundamentals that took them so far – but only so far – during his one and only full season in charge. The need for a brand new face at the helm could well bring more upheaval and a bedding-in period at a time when the team should be focusing on the business end of two competitions.

“After the last game against Scarlets, we did a week’s wash-up on what we want to achieve this season,” says Erasmus, when asked about expanding the horizons of his attack.

Rassie Erasmus James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“(We) talked about the six games we lost last season, that we wanted to win more games and try and win a title and plan the areas of the game we wanted to work on, and planned each week of conditioning up until yesterday’s coaching session.

“Everyone – Jerry (Flannery), Felix and the conditioning coaches and the analysts —  had a role in that. The challenge is to ensure that when the new coach comes in, that those thoughts are aligned.”

That kind of alignment and the work to form a single coherent gameplan is something that Erasmus and Anthony Foley worked long and hard on through the summer of 2016.

So just shy of 13 months on from his arrival in Ireland, it’s perfectly natural for Erasmus to think back to the stalwart who had been his right hand man for such a cruelly short space of time.

“Last year (the talk was) ‘would Anthony and Rassie be able to work together? How is it going to work? How can they get a director of rugby?’”

The questions this ahead of this campaign are just as pressing. Yet as CJ Stander sits almost silent and unnoticed throughout his coach’s long-awaited media appearance, he nods along firmly in agreement as Erasmus cites the strength of the culture and the leadership that exists within the playing squad to carry then through whatever coaching inconvenience comes this season.

Because, as Stander points out, that’s all it is. An inconvenience. This is a squad who know what truly tough times are.

“What Rassie did was he came in and gave us a voice and a good structure of solid rugby. What he’s leaving here, someone coming and taking the reins, it’s not going to be a big transition,” says the Munster, Ireland and Lions back row.

“We know what we want and where we want to get to. When Munster get the right guy it’ll be an easy transition. We have a group of leaders in the team that know what’s expected of us as players. There’s a good set-up outside of the rugby. We’re excited and this is not as bad as you think.

 The worst thing is walking out on a Friday and seeing Axel and walking in on Monday and he’s not there.

“This man (Rassie) will still be there and we can still see him and even give him a call afterwards even if he’s in South Africa and say: ‘eh, I’m struggling with this’ and get some advice.

“This is the easy part.”

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