Munster’s pre-season got off to a winning start with a 35-26 win away to Worcester Warriors as they lined up against old friends Donncha O’Callaghan and Peter Stringer.
The victory came at a price as Munster will face Benetton Rugby in their first competitive game of the season without new signing Gerbrandt Grobler.
In addition, Tommy O’Donnell joins Conor Oliver, JJ Hanrahan, Sam Arnold, Duncan Casey, Ronan O’Mahony, Dave O’Callaghan and Darren O’Shea on the injury list.
Meanwhile, the search continues for a new head coach to replace director of rugby Rassie Erasmus who returns to South Africa later this year.
According to some reports, Munster Rugby may call on Felix Jones to step into the breach on a temporary basis.
30-year-old Jones retired from the game following a neck injury two years ago and last season he took up a coaching role with the province.
Munster Rugby published an interview with Rassie Erasmus, who will assume the role of National Director of Rugby with South Africa Rugby, in which he speaks about his decision to leave and the plan in place for the coming months.
“I and my family moved to Limerick not knowing what was ahead of us, it was a challenge I was both nervous and excited about, and the experience has exceeded any of my expectations. However, in making the decision to move I always said that one day I would like to coach the Springboks if the opportunity arose.
“With regards the players I told them that I had wanted to be involved with the Springboks eventually. It then became a reality earlier than I thought it would.
“I said the same to Garrett (Fitzgerald) and David (Nucifora), my employers, that one day I would like to go back and be involved with the Springboks. I asked would they stand in my way if I went, not to an opposition team, but an international team. Knowing where we all stood we continued to work together, understanding what may come down the line. As discussions got more serious all eventualities were being looked at.
“In June South Africa Rugby confirmed how the newly created position would work and when I spoke to Garrett and David they confirmed they wouldn’t stand in my way. It was a national job, a wonderful opportunity and not with an opposition team. Management and players understand the reason for leaving.
“Had I known earlier last season that I was definitely going to leave I would have said so, but to say so then would have been lying.”
“The reason for leaving in December and not the end of the season is that the South African season is from January to November.
“It was never a case of Jacques and I staying for exactly six or nine months, or whatever. The priority is finding the right replacement and if that means staying until October, November or December, so be it, it’s an open discussion.
“I will coach and do my very best for as long as I am here, but if they find a replacement coach tomorrow and say I must go, then I will go. Depending on appointments we may leave at different times. December at this stage is the ideal goal as we feel it will give everyone enough time to prepare, but that is open for discussion.
“We understand that we are in the middle of a contract and Munster are graciously helping us so anything we can do to facilitate Munster we will do.
“Leaving mid-season can cause some uncertainty, but to a degree, there was uncertainty as well last season, ‘who are these guys, where are they coming from, how will they handle it?’. The squad went on to have a great season and we went on to bolster the squad in all the positions that we had to.
“We’ve got a stronger squad heading into next season and Jerry and Felix are fully on board with what we are trying to do. We have planned it very carefully, we are aligning the systems with coaches, players and Garrett so that whenever the departure comes the transition is smooth.
“For example, rather than me doing certain duties we have handed them over to Felix and Jerry now and they are overseen by me. Players then get used to that and it should make things easier for a new coach coming in.”
As regards the recruitment process undertaken by Munster and the IRFU, Erasmus is happy to assist where appropriate and necessary, yet building on the on-field successes of last season remains his primary focus for the coming months.
“My opinion will be asked if I know the guy. That would be the level of my involvement. I will not be sitting in on any interviews.
“My focus is more on the start of the PRO14 and Europe. I know we have a better squad than last year and we have grown as a team, but that must be reflected on the field, so that will be my only challenge, and priority until we get on the plane.”
Munster’s return to competitive action for the first game of the new season in Cork this Friday against Benetton Rugby in the Guinness Pro14. On Saturday 9th September they will return to Thomond Park to take on the Toyota Cheetahs for the first time.
The competition has had a slight name change since the addition of two South African clubs, the Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs.
The format is different too with two conferences of seven teams; two Irish two Welsh and one each from Scotland, Italy and South Africa.
Munster have been drawn in the A Conference with Cardiff Blues, Toyota Cheetahs, Connacht, Glasgow Warriors, Ospreys and Zebre.
In the European Champions Cup, Munster are drawn in Pool 4 with Castres Olympique, Leicester Tigers and Racing 92. They travel to Castres for the first pool game on 15th October. On 21st October they return to Thomond Park to host Racing 92.