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The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - GAVIN CUMMISKEY At Thomond Park

No un­der­dogs here. Not even in the face of Sara­cens.

“Lis­ten, what­ever I say here we are up against it next week,” said the al­ways com­posed Rassie Eras­mus as Mun­ster barely broke stride be­fore switch­ing fo­cus to a Cham­pi­ons Cup semi-fi­nal at the Aviva Sta­dium.

“We will give our­selves a proper chance and see how far we have grown in nine months but I am not one of those guys who al­ways want to be the un­der­dog.

“I don’t be­lieve in that, I don’t think we should be the un­der­dogs when we go into games.”

This er­ror-strewn vic­tory over Ul­ster, only se­cured af­ter Paddy Jack­son’ s rushed drop-goal at­tempt curled wide, was over­shad­owed by the loom­ing spec­tre of the reign­ing Euro­pean and English cham­pi­ons.

Ul­ster un­der Les Kiss re­mains a club in tran­si­tion, or tur­moil depend­ing on your per­spec­tive, un­til Jono Gibbes and oth­ers ar­rive this sum­mer. They can still reach the Pro12 play­offs by win­ning away to Ospreys two weeks from now but, yet again, the re­ally se­ri­ous rugby is be­ing con­tested by other Ir­ish prov­inces.

But back to Sara­cens. “I think they are a very com­plete team,” said Eras­mus of Mark McCall’s team. “At the be­gin­ning it was just a great kick­ing game, which they still have, but they have in­di­vid­ual guys who can at­tack and score from noth­ing. They have a lot of English guys now and other in­ter­na­tional guys who are in the prime of their ca­reer, 28 or 29.

Evolved

“When Bren­dan Ven­ter left me as as­sis­tant coach at the Storm­ers it was 2010 so it is seven years later so I think they have re­ally evolved.”

That Ven­ter was his as­sis­tant coach so long ago shows the 44-year-old’s stature in South African rugby. The Spring­boks des­per­ately want Eras­mus to come home, so how­ever long or short his time in Mun­ster be­comes, they cur­rently have one of the game’s great minds among them, plan­ning for the lat­est mon­u­men­tal game in their his­tory.

There are oth­ers who can­not af­ford to think about the fu­ture. On Satur­day a lo­cal fa­ther named Keith Earls snatched the man-of-the-match award af­ter fin­ish­ing off a fine try cre­ated by Fran­cis Saili break­ing the mus­cu­lar grip of An­drew Trim­ble. Then there’s Peter O’Ma­hony and the de­part­ing Don­nacha Ryan. All three men are cru­cial now that Conor Mur­ray’s bat­tle to re­cover from a stinger is all but lost.

This is the same O’Ma­hony who two years ago was bat­tered into the dirt as a South African-laden Sara­cens de­con­structed an older Mun­ster.

“That was stom­ach-churn­ing, that de­feat,” re­called O’Ma­hony. “As you know, we al­ways pride our­selves on Europe and how we do in it and we let our­selves down over the past cou­ple of years and that par­tic­u­lar one was a tough one to take.

“But it is a dif­fer­ent group now, it is a dif­fer­ent an­imal,” O’Ma­hony said. “We have learned a lot of lessons and we go about our busi­ness now a dif­fer­ent way. Un­der the new coach­ing staff it’s – not that it is re­laxed – we kind of just get on with the week, and we have put an em­pha­sis on en­joy­ing our rugby.”

The cap­tain is not a man for wast­ing words so his pas­sion­ate elab­o­ra­tion was a warn­ing in it­self to the Premier­ship cham­pi­ons. “We are go­ing to have our work se­ri­ously cut out, but you know, I have been in semi-fi­nal places be­fore – not that we have beaten our­selves dur­ing the week, but you just let them pass you by and all of a sud­den it is game day and they are short enough as it is. So you have to em­brace it and en­joy it be­cause these are the things you are go­ing to look back on. Whether you win, lose or draw, you look back on these week­ends be­cause they are ob­vi­ously the big­gest week­ends of your life and you want to look back on them with fond mem­o­ries.”

Grad­u­ate school

None of these Mun­ster men have done this be­fore. Earls was on the 2009 team beaten by Le­in­ster in Croke Park and he was a sub, along with Ryan, for the 2008 fi­nal, but the rest of those win­ners are gone. Sure, Jerry Flan­nery is study­ing in the Eras­mus grad­u­ate school of coach­ing and the man him­self brought the Chee­tahs to a sim­i­lar Cur­rie Cup peak that Mun­ster are about to scale.

So Eras­mus knows how to cope with mini-dis­as­ters like los­ing Mur­ray and Rory Scan­nell. Saili and Jaco Taute will join forces in an in­ter­na­tional mid­field be­cause Eras­mus has very quickly and clev­erly stocked up in key po­si­tions.

Take Jean Dey­sel re­plac­ing the in­jured Jean Kleyn. The 32-year-old Spring­bok flanker has come north to find smaller men than those he dom­i­nates back home. But Sara­cens are a beastly propo­si­tion.

“We need to be right on the money to have any chance.” Ma­hony wants to savour it but the coach of these Mun­ster hounds is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent an­imal.

“I don’t think you have to be the un­der­dog to win a game,” re­peated Eras­mus. “I don’t be­lieve in that.”

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