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Erasmus breaks silence on Munster return and his 2019 Foley promise

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has revealed that he will next month keep the poignant promise he made in 2019 about the late Anthony Foley, his former colleague at Munster who tragically passed away in his sleep at a Parisian hotel ahead of a Champions Cup match in the French capital in October 2016.

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It was on his way out of his media briefing following the 2019 World Cup final win over England in Yokohama that Erasmus, the then-Springboks head coach, made an unsolicited promise to an Irish reporter attending the game that he would visit Foley’s grave in Co Clare with his medal sometime in the future.

With the pandemic travel restrictions now largely in hibernation and with Erasmus’ lengthy World Rugby ban from matchday involvement having recently expired, the SA DoR has been busy making plans for the upcoming European tour that will feature four Test games for the Springboks and two South Africa A games – including a fixture versus Munster in Cork.

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On Tuesday, Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber named a 26-strong squad for the three-day training squad in Stellenbosch from next Sunday ahead of the upcoming tour. Along with Mzwandile Stick, they hosted a virtual media briefing from Cape Town – Erasmus’ first official media briefing since before his ban last year – that went on for more than an hour.

Having been quizzed by other media on multiple selection issues, including the ongoing omission of Elton Jantjies, RugbyPass reminded Erasmus about his Yokohama promise to the late Foley and asked for his thoughts about bringing his South African team to play a game in Munster that was quickly sold out when tickets went on sale in September.

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“The decision to play against Munster, I wouldn’t say I had a lot of influence there but I do know that Munster has got this history of really putting it up against international teams. The All Blacks lost to them and I know when we coached there they beat the New Zealand Maori. I know it is a sell-out crowd and know how passionate Munster people are but also how respectful they are when a team is playing there.

“We are the South African A side playing there but there will be a few of the guys that are actually in the Test match group, overflow guys. There will be some big names playing in that game against Munster, so that is exciting. That competition is going to be stiff and I know the way the Irish people support.

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“What Munster did for me on a coaching level, not just the people but the players and the assistant coaches and when Axel passed away, the way I hopefully grew as a person and understood things and people better because I maybe wasn’t great at it and was maybe average at it.

“I will certainly make a plan. I will definitely meet up with his sister and hopefully, Jerry (Flannery) is around there if he is not at Harlequins… Yeah, I will definitely keep my promise because Axel played a big part in those short few months. It was tough times for us when we started out but we ended really as two close friends and I love the Munster and Irish people.”

Erasmus was only months into his job in Limerick when Foley, the former Ireland international who had inspiringly led the Irish province as captain to their breakthrough European Cup glory in 2006, passed away in Paris. It was November 2017 when Erasmus stepped away from Munster, handing the reins to fellow South African Johann van Graan.

Having finished his post-match media conference following South Africa’s 32-12 win over England in November 2019, he spotted Derek Foley, a journalist from the Irish Daily Star, offered his hand and said: “Tell Anthony Foley the next time I am in Limerick I promise I will bring my medal to visit him.”

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