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Erasmus hopes Munster draw on home comfort in Dublin against Saracens

The Munster director of rugby is delighted with the influence of Tyler Bleyendaal at out-half.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER MUNSTER’S win over Toulouse on Saturday evening in Limerick, Rassie Erasmus was asked who he would prefer to face in the semi-finals.

Of course, Saracens and Glasgow had not yet played at that point, but the Munster director of rugby didn’t hesitate for a second in answering.

Rassie Erasmus Erasmus at Thomond Park on Saturday. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Erasmus wanted Saracens to emerge victorious, mainly because it would mean the semi-final would take place in Ireland.

Well, the South African got his wish yesterday as Sarries took Glasgow apart in a comprehensive victory at Allianz Park. Perhaps Erasmus was revising his opinion in the latter stages of that quarter-final, but on Saturday he was convinced that the home tie was better.

“In my last game at the Aviva [Munster's Pro12 defeat to Leinster in October], I was sitting in the coaches’ box and it was soundproof. It was tough to enjoy that game. Obviously, we also lost, so it wasn’t easy to enjoy anyway!

But, listen, I would rather we play anywhere in Ireland than going away. I’m not sure what the vibe would be there [at the Aviva], I can’t talk out of experience, but better in Ireland than in any place else.”

The thought of a full Aviva Stadium for the visit of the reigning champions is certainly appetising and Munster’s support will massively outweigh the travelling contingent, so there will surely be a telling advantage in that.

But Saracens delivered what was probably the most convincing performance of the quarter-finals and they are entirely comfortable with the pressure of a semi-final contest, whereas Munster would admit that this is new ground for their group.

Erasmus was certainly keen to reel in the expectations on Saturday, stressing that this is a squad still in its learning phase.

“I think we have improved a bit, but before this game I was nervous,” said the former Springbok. “I will be nervous next week against Glasgow [in the Pro12], because we have grinded it out in a lot of games when it was close.

A view of a scrum during the game Munster's most recent game at the Aviva ended in defeat to Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We could have lost those, and that grows confidence and self-belief, but we’re not all of a sudden a bullet-proof team that can beat anybody; we are the kind of team who can grind it out.

“Four times it’s gone against us this year, so although many people saw us as favourites to win, which was crazy if you think about it when we started the pool matches off.

“It is nice, but we try to stay really realistic because only Jean Kleyn – who is injured – and Rhys [Marshall] and Jaco Taute are new to this squad from the one last year, so we have a lot of things to work on and we’re certainly not bullet-proof, but it is improving.”

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Taute has been an essential addition this season, while Marshall has impressed as reserve hooker behind Niall Scannell, but Erasmus is neglecting to mention a man who has been as good as any new signing.

Tyler Bleyendaal has been the difference at crucial points during this campaign, providing composure in calling the plays and making decisions, while also offering a reliable source of points off the tee.

The Kiwi, who looks a certainty to play for Ireland in the future, has been pivotal in Munster’s rise, having shaken off the injury issues that plagued him after initially being signed by Anthony Foley.

“I think he is getting better, he wasn’t really involved last year,” said Erasmus. “He was injured most of last year but he’s really a world-class player and he has got a great rugby brain on him.

“His kicking, obviously, this season has been outstanding and he brings a bit of calmness into the team just because of his knowledge of the game and we’re fortunate to have a guy like Ian Keatley and in some cases Rory Scannell was backing up for us.

Tyler Bleyendaal Bleyendaal has been superb for Munster this season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We lost Johnny Holland early in the season, people tend to forget he was one of our fly-halves who would have been competing for the number one spot.  Tyler is still growing as a player but he is has a wonderful temperament, calmness.”

With Bleyendaal running the show and Conor Murray expected to return from his shoulder injury in the next week, all looks rosy for Munster right now.

Pro12 clashes with Glasgow and Ulster come before the Saracens semi-final clash, but Erasmus is content that his side are currently living up to their pre-season goal.

“We’ve always said we will maximise potential and if we can maximise potential, we see where we will end up. I think the players are doing that, so we can’t say we are ahead of schedule but we are maximising potential.

“Always stay with the goal, otherwise if you lose you think you’ve been a failure. The idea was to maximise potential.”

It’s not clear where this Munster group’s potential ends, but they are unlikely to die wondering against Saracens.

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