An emotional Rassie Erasmus signed off as Munster director of rugby with a 49-6 trouncing of Dragons in Cork on Friday night and said his 18 months with the province had been the best of his life, writes Simon Lewis.
Erasmus is set to step down as Munster boss having decided to leave for a similar role at South African Rugby.
His successor, incoming head coach Johann Van Graan, is expected to take over when he receives a work permit later this month and with no game for three weeks, this was likely Erasmus’s final game in charge.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed my time here,” he said. This has been the best 18 months of my life, not just in rugby. I have learned so much from Irish people.
“I will treasure these days for the rest of my life. And the performance was wonderful to sign off with.
“It is going to be hard to leave Ireland because this country has been good to myself and Jacques Nienaber. He doesn’t always get the chance to talk to the media but he feels that too.
“We have been on our own together this week and we have shared so many memories.
“I’ve learned so much here. The players have shown me what professionalism means, the Munster culture is amazing. It is a privilege for them and not just their jobs.
“Irish sides all have that, they may not have 400 players (in this country) but they have 160 top-class professionals and that is why they set the standard.
“The supporters here are passionate, always support you in a tough time and I would like to be a fan like that. I’ve learned a lot.”
Erasmus declined to agree that he was leaving Munster in a better place than when he was installed as the province’s first director of rugby in the summer of 2016 but he said: “Munster have always been a great club, they just had a couple of shaky years. We’ve done lots of things to move into the future, changing to one training centre and it bodes well for the future.
“We are moving in the right direction and in good shape and the Leicester games (in the Champions Cup) will be important in November. I think we are sitting pretty.”
Munster’s players gave their boss a rousing send-off with this bonus-point win at Musgrave Park, fly-half JJ Hanahran picking up the man of the match award with seven conversions from seven.
First-half tries from Rory Scannell and Simon Zebo gave the home side a 14-3 interval lead before the floodgates opened in the second half, replacement Sam Arnold leading the charge with two tries and further scores from Jack O’Donoghue, Kevin O’Byrne and Darren Sweetnam.
“We stuck at it tonight and everybody eventually got in on the action. It was wonderful for guys like Robin Copeland to play like that,” Erasmus said
It was painful to watch for Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman who gave debuts to six players in the midst of an injury crisis as the Welsh province suffered yet another away defeat, their 28th in succession.
Yet the former Irish international praised opposite number Erasmus and the Munster culture.
“Munster have always been a strong team. There’s an identity here, good structure, passion and a following. They’re well on the road and we admire them. He steadied the ship, put good systems in place
“It’s a massive challenge for the new guy and I imagine he won’t change most, retaining most of the coaching staff. If they keep on top of what they are doing, I’m sure they can beat anyone in Europe.”