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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 22 March, 2019
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Munster's Erasmus hopes for attacking progress after win over Zebre

The South African director of rugby rated his side’s performance as solid.

THE EARLY SIGNS are that Munster’s new defence coach Jacques Nienaber is having an impact on the province.

The South African’s signature was a major coup for Munster this summer, with director of rugby Rassie Erasmus convincing Nienaber to shift his life to Ireland despite an offer to become South Africa’s defence coach through to the next World Cup.

Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber Erasmus and Nienaber hope to turn Munster's fortunes around. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

The SARU was not happy about losing Nienaber, and his reputation in the coaching world underlines exactly why. Technically excellent, a good man manager and deeply passionate about defending – so say those in the know.

Munster’s players have been impressed too, and the province’s defence was excellent in Friday night’s 17-0 win over Zebre in Waterford. Far more demanding tests lie ahead, but the aggressive linespeed – always with a safety net behind – was encouraging.

“I think they enjoy the way Jacques does it,” said Erasmus afterwards when asked about his players’ positive reaction to Nienaber. “He has a massive passion for defence and the players are understanding what he’s trying to do.

He understands them and he doesn’t expect a player who has a certain skillset to do something he can’t, so that’s where the connection is really good at the moment.

“Jacques will be pretty happy with that. When you make so many changes, you lose a little bit of rhythm but you always expect the defence to stay solid and they did that tonight. Zebre came close a couple of times but it was solid.”

The rain poured down at the RSC on Friday night, with a strong wind adding to the difficulty both sides had in creating chances with ball in hand.

It meant kicking played a central role in the encounter. After a nervy opening 15 minutes, Ian Keatley grew into the task at out-half for Munster and Erasmus was pleased with his 10.

Ian Keatley on the attack Keatley recovered from a shaky start to deliver a strong performance. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We didn’t really want to kick so much in certain areas but we had to adapt on the day and with his experience, Ian did well.

“It sometimes gets frustrating to kick the whole time, but that’s sometimes the option which is on. After 10 or 15 minutes into the game, he really handled that well. Kicking can be the boring option but in this weather we’ll take it.”

“Solid” was Erasmus’ summary of the majority of what Munster did in their first pre-season game, although he was disappointed that the province were largely unable to build attacking pressure on Zebre without kicking.

Indeed, those looking for clues as to how Erasmus is going to set Munster up in phase player this season must wait.

I think philosophy-wise, we couldn’t really do a lot of things because of the weather,” said Erasmus. “I know it’s going to rain a lot here, but when the wind is howling like that it really makes it tough to play any rugby.

“Defensively, we did well and tactically we did ok, but it’s tough to judge the attack really. We scored three tries but they were kicking tries; it’s tough to judge it. But there were individual skills, which is pleasing.”

Worcester come to Cork this Friday, when Erasmus hopes to see more in attack.

“Hopefully, we will get some attacking stuff going next week. I know we scored three tries, but we want to get some structured attack. Our turnover attack and general attack was good, but some structured attack would be excellent if we could get it under the belt.”

Darren Sweetnam on the attack Sweetnam was excellent on Friday night. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

In terms of the individual skills Erasmus mentioned, wing Darren Sweetnam certainly stood out with a man-of-the-match display. Two tries were just reward for his offloading, carrying, kick chasing and general work rate.

“Darren is such a talent and he’s one of the guys that I think this is a massive breakthrough season for him,”said Erasmus. “I think he started well in this game.

Dan Goggin, a few others, there are so many guys who have potential to get out onto the pitch and get it through. Sweets definitely took his chances today.”

Erasmus was also pleased to Munster came through the game largely unscathed injury-wise, with Dave Foley the only fresh concern after a back spasm. However, there remains some concern for out-half Johnny Holland and his hamstring ahead of the Pro12 season.

“Johnny saw the specialist [on Thursday] so we will find out on Monday what the issue with his hamstring is. But he’s certainly still struggling, so we need to get clarity on that.”

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Murray Kinsella

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