The Munster Rugby press statement on June 30th confirming the departure of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber at the end of the year is a bitter blow for Munster who lose their main coaching ticket. The whole saga has left a horrible taste in the mouth. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the news.
First off, I would like to wish Erasmus and Niebaner all the best in their roles with the South African Rugby Union; it is a career defining move for both guys and it will be interesting to see if the national side start to pick up results leading into the 2019 RWC.
Departure leaves a horrible taste in the mouth
However, the timeline and sequence of events leading to this departure is dreadful for the IRFU and Munster whose development and improvement could be potentially stifled due to a change in key managerial personnel.
Immediately after Munster’s comprehensive loss to Saracens in the European Rugby Cup semi-final, Erasmus was emphatic in his viewpoint that he was staying at the province to continue to build on the solid foundation set during the year. You would have thought that would be it but the rumors continued to circulate.
The key questions on the saga is what happened since last April? When did Erasmus and Nienaber get offered positions with the South Africa Rugby Union. If so, was their an official approach from SARFU to Munster Rugby or IRFU? If not, why not and if so, why did Munster Rugby and IRFU not to execute mitigating action plans to create a shortlist of candidates to replace both resources?
Lack of clarity deafening
The lack of clarity on all these points is most disappointing and yet again another Irish province has suffered from the six month notice contract clause. Pat Lam left Connacht in a tailspin with a similar move to Bristol at the start of the year.
Erasmus and Nienaber have done the same on Munster. IRFU need to review their coaching and head coach contracts and potentially extend the six month notice to a year to allow the provinces to sufficiently be prepared for any subsequent departures.
Where now Munster Rugby?
Munster Rugby are seriously left in a bind and it is very hard to see much optimism going into the new season. Last season was a roller-coaster of emotions with the untimely passing of Anthony Foley and the subsequent upturn in form.
The emotional energy drained away at the end of the season but given the circumstances, this squad and management did immensely well to get to the last four of Europe and reach the Pro 12 final where they were beaten by an inspired Scarlets.
Departing Personnel Contribution
Erasmus and Niebaner arrived to the province with no agenda; no relationships with the current crop of players. The South Africans judged players on their actions on the training paddock and on game day performances. The defensive side of the team improved immeasurably last season thanks to Nienaber .
Erasmus’ reputation of setting solid foundations for a professional rugby franchise was again to the fore last season; his ability to fix club structures was seen again. They will be missed but it is an opportunity for Munster Rugby to take the club to the next level.
Munster Rugby – Next Steps
Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery are being primed to take over the side come the end of the year as emergency head coaching cover but you would hope that Munster Rugby and the IRFU will have acted at that stage to identify a head coach again who has no agenda and coming into the province with a fresh set of eyes.
Munster Rugby for me have being caught rotten, well behind the eight ball on this saga; no significant contingency planning for when Erasmus and Nienaber rumors started to circulate.
It will be realistically now next year when a permanent head coach is identified and I do feel that Munster Rugby will suffer from this news having to awkwardly continue working with Erasmus and Nienaber for the next couple of months.
Result performance will be waived off; bad habits will creep in and the temporary coaching ticket presumably Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones will be left in the unenviable position of trying to maintain momentum or arresting the slide if results do not go according to plan early in the season.
Who now for Munster Rugby?
Realistically, the head coaching job should come from outside the current management team. Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery are primed for solid coaching careers and they need to continue their development in this area going forward.
Paul O’Connell’s name is a knee jerk reaction and perhaps is a route that may not suit the talisman Munster star. Ronan O’Gara will continue to his coaching experience in France so feel that it is not the time for the Cork native to come back home. This will inevitably happen but next season is not the time.
Bernard Jackman would have probably being in the equation but he is now contracted with the Dragons. It will be interesting to see how Jackman goes with the Rodney Parade outfit.
Tony McGahan, Aaron Mauger and potentially George Ford could be in the mix for the head coach. Ford is a fascinating choice; expansive mindset and someone who is well aware of Ireland Rugby given his national side commitments in the past.
Intriguing times at Munster Rugby. Disappointment in the news that the managerial setup is leaving but hope springs eternal. The hierarchy at Munster have work to do to make the right calls in the long term direction of the province. Time will tell but the whole saga with Erasmus and Nienaber has being disappointing.