One More to Go

'I didn’t even know what teams were in the Pro12 when I arrived' - Erasmus

Munster’s director of rugby believes his players deserve to be in the final against the Scarlets.

WHILE SPECULATION ABOUT South African teams joining the Guinness Pro12 continues to do the rounds, it’s fair to say that the competition hasn’t exactly been big business in that part of the world until now.

Munster will certainly have picked up a fair few South African fans in recent years with CJ Stander standing out for the Irish province, while the likes of BJ Botha and Shaun Payne have passed through before him.

Rassie Erasmus Rassie Erasmus at Thomond Park on Saturday. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The South African support probably stepped up a notch this season with the arrival of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, who brought lock Jean Kleyn over within months.

Now that Erasmus has brought Munster into a final in his first season of asking, the interest will surely have been piqued even further.

His achievement in bringing together a squad that had been under such pressure last season, freeing them from that burden on their shoulders and galvanising them in the unbelievably trying circumstances of this season has been impressive.

Munster now stand on the brink of their first Pro12 title since 2011 – though the Scarlets will provide fierce final opposition – and Erasmus is happy to admit that he hadn’t even thought about reaching this point when he first arrived in Limerick.

I didn’t really know how the Pro12 totally worked,” said Erasmus on Saturday after his side’s 23-3 semi-final win over the Ospreys. “I didn’t even know what teams were in the Pro12 when I arrived.

“I just knew Munster because I followed them when it was still the Heineken Cup, it was on television in South Africa. To be honest, when I arrived here I wasn’t even sure how the tournaments are intertwined and how you play over Christmas.

“I didn’t really have an expectation when I came here. I came here with an idea to learn about the players, learn about the potential, learn about Axel and let’s maximise it and let’s see what comes out on the other side.

“I guess that’s the nice thing about the first season is that you can sum up and try and improve. Yes, I am surprised we are in a final after all the other stuff that we went through. There was a lot of other stuff we went through that wasn’t nice and was difficult.

“Yes, I am surprised and I am proud.”

Rassie Erasmus Erasmus is hoping Munster can produce on big final effort. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Erasmus takes some of that pride from how his players have reacted so swiftly to drag themselves out of what were dark days last season, when they were fighting for Champions Cup qualification in the final stages of the Pro12 season.

Indeed, the South African director of rugby believes those times are now standing to this group.

“Saying so would probably bite me next week or in a month’s time – but to be honest, the players deserve it,” said Erasmus of Munster reaching the Pro12 final. “They worked hard, they went through tough times, they went through things before matches and they went through things last year, even in Ireland to qualify.

“I just looked at a press conference two weeks ago, old clips just before they played Edinburgh and the pressure that must have been on this team last year just to qualify for Europe.

The team has been through a hell of a lot before I came here in the last 18 months, so you know that’s satisfying. They never give up and want to give back to the fans. That’s satisfying for them.”

Not that Erasmus or Munster’s players are satisfied completely. There is a final to be won now, loyal fans to be rewarded, a big day out to hopefully end a remarkable season on the note this squad feels had been worked hard for.

Having downed Leinster at the RDS, the Scarlets pose obvious danger to Munster’s title hopes at the Aviva, a stadium where Erasmus’ men have lost twice in two games this season.

Closing down the Welsh side’s at-times rampant set-piece strikes and counter-attacking brilliance will be vital for Munster as they attempt to ensure the Aviva doesn’t become a nightmare venue for them.

“Leinster away, which is a tough time and the other game we lost against Saracens, we were outplayed,” said Erasmus of Munster’s recent record at the Dublin stadium.

“We didn’t stop playing, they were just better than us. The Leinster game, the first one, we were really disappointed with the way we ended that game. We go there again and hopefully it’s third time lucky.”

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