Johan “Rassie” Erasmus and his second in command Jacques Nienber will return to South Africa in December after Erasmus agreed to rejoin the South African Rugby Football Union as there Director Of Rugby. This piece of news will be tough to take for the players as it will create uncertainty around a crucial moment of the year.
The fact that Erasmus has exercised his right to leave the job he took up in July 2016 with two more years to run on his contract may leave a sour taste. He had always said he would one day return to South Africa and after the uncertainty following the death of Anthony Foley , he and Nienber provided stability to help all the players regain focus.
They put structures in place that helped each player find the strength to continue with the season and this saw them make the Semi Finals in Europe and the Pro 12 Final where they were beaten by the Scarlets.
The timing of Erasmus’s departure is extremely hard to fathom because Munster may not be in a position to bring in a full time replacement until the summer of 2018. The IRFU need to address the situation that has arisen for the second season in a row where a coach has given 6 months notice of his intention to leave his position. This particular departure comes in the middle of the upcoming season and will do nothing for continuity.
Munster would have been hoping to build on the success of last season with Erasmus and Nienber at the helm, this will now not happen and could cause the good work to stall. Other factors that need to be considered are , the new signings that have arrived like Chris Farrell , James Hart and the return of JJ Hanrahan had been under the impression when they signed up that Erasmus would be the head coach for the 2017/2018 season at least.
There are some other big questions that will need to be answered before the season starts like who will be brought in to replace Donnacha Ryan , Dave Foley and Mark Chisholm who have all left for pastures new and in the case of Mark Chisholm who has retired.
They are three large holes to fill in the squad and Munster will need at least one new second row to help the younger players like Sean O Connor and Sean Mc Carthy acclimatise to the rigors of professional rugby.
From the IRFU’s perspective this is another situation they didn’t think they would be facing until the end of the 2017/2018 season at least. They have now a short period of time in which to draw up a wish list of potential replacements and it will be interesting to see who they have in mind to try and continue the work that the South African duo have started.
Immediately Ronan O Gara will be linked with the job but he has already said he is happy in France until 2019 at least. Paul O Connell will be linked although he has no top level coaching experience and after what happened with Leo Cullen in his first season in charge of Leinster the IRFU will be slow to appoint a coach with no experience.
Men like Eddie O Sullivan and Rob Penney are surely two men the IRFU will approach to see if they would be interested in taking on the job. Conor O Shea would be my choice of a man that Munster should move heaven and earth to try secure his services until the 2019 World Cup at the very least. With Joe Schmidt due to leave his post as Ireland head coach in 2019 , in my humble opinion it would be beneficial to have O’Shea back on Irish soil. In saying that knowing the way O Shea operates he will see out his contract with the Italian Rugby Federation.
It is now over to the IRFU and Munster Branch to secure a worthy replacement for Erasmus and Nienber. They helped steady the ship when things were tough and now the IRFU need to do all they can to bring in a quality coach to bring Munster forward…..
Cian Mc Gibney