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Dublin: 8°C Saturday 15 May 2021

Holland out for a month but Erasmus confident of Munster's potential

The promising out-half is struggling with a hamstring issue.

SO FAR, THE warnings from South Africa that Rassie Erasmus isn’t the biggest fan of dealing with the media aren’t ringing true.

Munster’s new director of rugby has been open and engaging in his dealings with the outside world early in his reign, though there may be tougher times ahead during the coming season.

Rassie Erasmus Erasmus at yesterday's Pro12 launch in Dublin. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Pre-season is a period of positivity, of course, and with one friendly fixture left before the beginning of the Guinness Pro12 season, life seems rosy for Rassie and his squad.

There have been setbacks, with Erasmus yesterday starting that promising out-half Johnny Holland is “not going to be playing in the next month or so,” following a specialist consultation on his hamstring last week.

Holland has not been pencilled in for surgery yet, but Erasmus said the out-half will have to “weigh up his options” before deciding on the best course of action.

More positively, Tyler Bleyendaal is in line to feature against Worcester in Cork on Friday, with new second row signing Jean Kleyn also set to be involved in the pre-season clash.

Ex-Leinster centre Colm O’Shea will stay on with Munster for an as-yet undefined time, having done well after coming in on trial as injury cover for Sam Arnold.

While it is also expected that South African international Jaco Taute will join Munster on a short-term contract as cover for Francis Saili – out for around four months – Erasmus did not confirm any deal yesterday.

“Until I’ve really worked with the players, it would be foolish to just bring in guys for the sake of it,” said the Munster director of rugby at yesterday’s Pro12 launch in Dublin. “Jean was a guy that I worked with so much and I think is world class.

“Other positions, again, I think I would be stupid to get somebody for the sake of getting somebody and I am still of that opinion that they must be really better. Obviously, if there is a massive injury or something like that happens, we’d have to strengthen ourselves in certain positions.”

Munster’s Johnny Holland Holland will be sidelined for around a month. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Rather than dwell on what Munster need to add to their group, Erasmus was keen to underline the qualities that he believes can make the southern province contenders again this season.

The South African is enthused by the questioning nature of Munster’s players, their desire to understand why Erasmus is leading them through a particular training drill or video session.

Erasmus believes this group is capable of special, skillful things – but that those moments will only come if there is a solid foundation.

“If we can get them to get the physical side of things spot on, then the x-factor will come through,” said Erasmus.

I think we can’t just play to our strengths, just because we have x-factor, but we don’t manage the breakdown, the mechanical part of the game – the scrums, the lineouts, the physical.

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“The non-skill side of things, I think that must be at a certain standard before you can get the Simon Zebo skills, the different guys’ skill sets – Darren Sweetnam’s skills.

“Before you get that out and see that, there is a certain amount of things that must be at a certain high level. That’s the donkeywork, the hard work, the grunting part of things. That x-factor doesn’t come through if the mechanical side of things are not there. I feel the players are understanding that and are working hard at that but we’re not there yet.”

Erasmus looks to the likes of Conor Murray, the soon-to-return Peter O’Mahony, and the younger players in this Munster squad to further underline that there is quality for him to work with.

“We’ve got speed,” said the former Cheetahs head coach. “We’re good in the air. We’ve got a good kicking game. We’ve got a few guys who can create something out of nothing.

Darren Sweetnam celebrates his try with Stephen Fitzgerald Darren Sweetnam [left] has impressed Erasmus. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Conor is one of the best nines in the world. We’ve got massive big locks in the mix. We’ve got Peter O’Mahony and there are young guys who are pushing. Those are all good if those other things are in place.”

Erasmus also sees a group that is greatly motivated to rebound from the utter disappointment of last season, and he is heartened by his perception that the players accept their share of responsibility for the failures of that dark campaign.

As for his own motivation, Erasmus points to his coaching history when asked why he decided to take the Munster job.

When he accepted the head coaching role at the Cheetahs, they hadn’t won a Currie Cup for 29 years. Erasmus led them to three titles. At the Stormers, he helped the franchise transform from consistent underachievers into Super Rugby challengers.

Munster feels a little bit familiar.

The saying goes, ‘Nothing great has ever been achieved in ideal circumstances,’” said Erasmus yesterday in the Aviva Stadium, where this season’s Pro12 final will take place.

“Why would you go to a place where it’s just easy, you have all the money, the best things, but is that something great? For me, we’re going upstream with a load of things going against us but when we get that right, there is so much more satisfaction.

“People will definitely write us off at the beginning, which we accept because we haven’t had a great few years. But that’s the challenge and that’s what I enjoy.”

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Murray Kinsella

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