Lions star Conor Murray lifts lid on Rassie Erasmus’ ‘bad cop’ coaching methods

Rugby fans in the northern hemisphere not previously familiar with the methods of Rassie Erasmus are getting a crash course during this summer’s British and Irish Lions series.

The South Africa director has been criticised for coaching his team as a makeshift water boy and more recently offered to “step away” from his role following a 22-17 defeat in their series opener.

Conor Murray has a more intimate understanding of Erasmus having worked under him during Munster’s 2016/17 season, developing an appreciation for his demanding ways.

Erasmus, 48, has worked alongside long-time assistant Jacques Nienaber since the late 1990s, and Murray described the pair as having a ‘good cop-bad cop’ dynamic around the dressing room.

After numerous roles working with South Africa in a technical capacity, Erasmus moved to Thomond Park in the summer of 2016, and Murray told the Irish Independent : “Rassie was tough, and there was definitely a time and a place for that toughness at Munster, and then Jacques [Nienaber] was the good cop.

“They kind of worked in tandem and that’s why they are such a good team; they balance well off each other.

“If Rassie would have a go at anyone in the changing-room, Jacques would probably have a quiet word with them and tell them what Rassie actually meant and that it’s coming from a good place.

“I don’t know how it works with South Africa but they’ve known each other for years. They’ll be putting their heads together and coming up with a plan for this weekend.”

It’s clearly an approach that has its merits considering how Erasmus was praised for his work leading South Africa to the 2019 Rugby World Cup crown.

The Springboks beat England 32-12 to clinch their third World Cup, and their then-coach later shared video of the heartfelt team talk that helped motivate his players before the win.

As for Erasmus’ social media activity—he recently denied using a Twitter ‘burner account’ by the name of ‘Jaco Johan’—Murray is bemused by the entire situation.

“I don’t know what his game-plan is with Twitter,” Murray added. “I don’t know what the craic is, really. It’s quite a funny thing.”

Murray was part of the Munster team that finished as Pro12 runners-up to the Scarlets during Erasmus’ sole season in Limerick.

The tactician was voted the league’s Coach of the Season for his contributions, having also helped the Irish outfit to the semi-finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup.

‘Good cop’ Nienaber has since been elevated to the head coach role for South Africa and is hoping to cancel out the Lions’ lead when they meet for the second leg of the series on Saturday.

Scrum-half Murray will earn his seventh cap in Cape Town after replacing Ali Price in Warren Gatland’s XV, one call that promises to have a big impact on the game early on.

The 32-year-old’s time playing under the South Africa duo at Munster may have been brief, but Murray nonetheless possesses rare insight into the leader of the opposition.

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