THE fact Johan ‘Rassie’ Erasmus has signed on for a substantial three-year term as Munster’s first Director of Rugby indicates the South African’s belief that he can turn the province’s fortunes round.
Three years is a big commitment for Erasmus - who was, by all accounts, unfortunate not to be appointed South African head coach, which eventually went to Allister Coetzee - to make.
During his time in South Africa, ‘Rassie’ has enjoyed a proven track record in head coaching, developing young players and putting highly-functioning structures in place.
The 43-year-old won 36 caps for the Springboks and leaves his role as General Manager High Performance of South African rugby, a position he has held since 2012.
Erasmus is joined at Munster this season by his trusted lieutenant Jacques Nienaber – also highly regarded in the coaching world – who will take control of defence.
One of the biggest challenges facing Erasmus and the Munster organisation this season is to win the fans back.
The latest Munster Branch AGM in June heard that Munster’s gate income dropped by €1.1 million against budget in 2015/2016, €500,000 of which was from Champions Cup gates.
Munster failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition once again with their hopes of progressing having disappeared even before their final home pool fixture against Stade Francais.
Gate receipts for the Pro12 dropped by €380,000.
Unlike 2014/2015 when Munster hosted a Guinness Pro12 semi-final and contested the final, Munster lost out on Pro12 knock-out stage income of €250,000 last season.
As a result of the drop-off in attendances. Munster also suffered resultant decreases in ancillary revenues such as bar, catering and match programme income.
Erasmus is adamant that the only way for Munster to get increased numbers back through the turnstiles is to play winning rugby.
He said: “We can beat around the bush with marketing, but if we don’t win we don’t get crowds. Even if you are really brave when you play, you won’t get crowds.”
Erasmus says his target for the squad this season is ‘massive improvement’ on last term when Munster failed to make the Guinness Pro12 play-offs as well as missing out on a place in the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup for a second successive season.
Erasmus said: “I would be naïve to think that if we don’t show massive, massive improvement from last year, I don’t think people will accept us saying that we trying hard we’re improving slowly and we’ll get there but if we don’t see a massive improvement we’ll all be under massive pressure.
“Massive improvement is probably relative but for me massive improvement is winning more games than you are losing and winning more than you won last year.”
Asked what Munster is capable of achieving this season, the South African replied: “I don’t want to have the standard answer of saying ‘Here, we are inheriting a squad’ I don’t want to say that.
”I want to say I want to optimise the players and coaches we have now to give the best possible results and I don’t want to say ‘next year I will have developed the group because I have worked with them longer’ That would be a normal answer.
“I would say with this group now I want to get the best of them now and get the results as quick as possible.”
He admits the decision to swap South Africa for life in Limerick was a big one to make.
“It was a massive decision for me to leave South Africa. Our twins turned 12 recently and our small girl turns 6 next May.
“I know a lot of people who have been here (at Munster) before. I played with Wian du Preez a little bit as well as coaching him from the time he was young.
“Jean (de Villiers) was here for a while. I know BJ (Botha) and Shaun Payne who was here.
“Everyone told me about the people. I know it sounds like I am sucking up, but the way people respond to you is different to some parts I have been before. People are really helpful.”
Erasmus believes the state-of-the-art single training centre at UL which is due to opening shortly will prove very beneficial to the team.
“For myself and Jacques (Nienaber) (Munster defence coqach) this is normal, we are only used to coaching in one centre. For the other coaches and players it is about adapting, especially for the Cork guys, it will be a change.
“In three or four months time I think we will ask how could we ever operate without one centre? The timing for myself and Jacques is good.”
An exciting new era for Munster dawns on Saturday when Erasmus’ side faces Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets, 3pm.