‘The most cutting review of a performance’: How Rassie drew a line in the sand at Munster

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RO’M: “Even to this day, knowing Rassie is a World Cup winning coach and he put such faith into me as a player, it brings a smile to my face.

“Every Monday at a team meeting, win lose or draw, he had this aura about him. He addressed the team really well., He knew exactly what to say. His broken English made it a bit more raw. He couldn’t dress things up. He had to tell it like it was.

“It was just really exciting. Even though he was a scary character in a way as well.

“His first season, we had just beaten Scarlets and it was his second game against Cardiff at Musgrave Park. We were beaten.

“Afterward, he had these numbers written on the board. It was the ages of all their pack. He left it there for ages. 37, 36, there was a 40 in there, with the prop. He constantly had you on edge and kept you thinking on your feet.

DW: “He had five people’s initials on the board as well. They were the ones absolved of everything. The rest had to write a reason why, basically, you were such a coward for the game.

“Sweets (Darren Sweetnam) played so well he didn’t even have to come to the meeting. Rassie set up a WhatsApp group and the only one not in it was Sweets. The five initials were those who didn’t have to text him.

RO’M: “We had to text him by 11 o’clock that morning and tell him, literally, why you were such a coward in the game. And you’re thinking, oh my God, what am I going to write to my head coach here.

DC: “We only lost by four points or something, but he came in and tore strips off the entire team, not just the players, the staff as well. One of his gripes was that the physios were running on too quickly when someone went down hurt in training.”

RO’M: “He thought it showed weakness in the team, so a player might have keeled over on the pitch and the physios would be there twiddling their thumbs.”

DC: “I remember Billy (Holland) saying it was the most cutting review of a performance he’d ever heard.”

DW: “It made a massive change. I don’t think we lost a game for 15 or 16.”

DC:“A line was drawn in the sand.”

DW: “And you didn’t play if you didn’t train in every session. It had got bad for a while. You might have 10 or 15 lads standing watching training with half of them in the 23.”

RO’M: “A lot of people say a new head coach needs time, but Rassie came in with us and got us motoring within a month. He had 18 months with South Africa and won a World Cup. You don’t always need time. You need to create the right environment and have the right people and lay down early markers.”

DW: “The change he made to the culture and the environment and the way people approached every day of training made a big difference. We had more numbers on the pitch, we had more fellas available for matches.”

DC: “Rassie was the taskmaster while Jacques (Nienaber) very much had high expectations.

RO’M: “He was the man on the ground, the glue who held it all together. He broke defence down and made it very simple. There’s an advantage line, and when there’s a collision you either win the collision or you lose it. We have all been taught proper tackling techniques over the years, but Jacques broke it all down. At the end of the day, it’s a man running at you and you have to put him on the floor, whatever way you got to do that. He made it very simple.”

DC: “It’s simple stuff done very well with a lot of aggression. You get off the line, shut down the space, and hit him as hard as you can. He used to say ‘sign your name on him’ which was a great line. Sign your fucking name on him. What he asked of the wingers was more or less the opposite of what was wanted from them in Ireland camp.”

RO’M: “He wanted his wingers very high. He always wanted us making reads. Especially off first phase, or a lin out. He’d want me counting passes. So I’d try and get up high on the first pass, higher on the second and on the third he’d want me to make a defensive read. Make a man and ball hit.”

DW: “His pet peeve was if they got more than three passes.”

RO’M: “Sometimes I’d get it, sometimes I’d mess it up and I’d be thinking, Jesus, but even in a review, he’d be no, that’s what I want you to do, don’t change it, keep going after it.”

DW: “It was a massive change. Before, it would be highlighted in a meeting if you made a read and didn’t get man and ball. That was a massive change to the outlook.”

RO’M: “The more you try it the higher you find yourself in the line and you can make really momentum-swinging reads, especially in those wider channels.”

DC: “A lot of the problem, because analysis plays such an important role now in rugby, it definitely feeds into players’ psyche where they don’t want to get caught making a mistake. They don’t want to get rinsed in the video or have their stats negatively affected by a bad call. With Jacques, it was make the call and I’ll back you. If you do what I ask you to do, it doesn’t matter.”

RO’M: “I had one of those scenarios off kickoffs. I used to chase incredibly hard off kickoffs, so I’d be flying. If a number 8 or winger catches it in the backfield, he can step you pretty easily because it only takes a little shimmy. And I’d be going down as missed tackles.

“And I asked Jacques can you not put me down for missed tackles on those because I want to keep going for those big hits, I think they can pay off for us. He said, yeah, no problem, there’s no major risk. He was very open to listening.”

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