Cape Town - Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has labelled the PRO14 Championship as "one of the toughest I have ever coached in."
Erasmus may be guiding his Bok side at the Rugby World Cup in Japan currently, but he will have one eye on the PRO14 as it kicks off this weekend with two local games in South Africa and much expectation for the Southern Kings and Cheetahs.
The Bok coach was in charge of Munster in the 2016-17 season where he led the Irish side to a final appearance after topping the group with 19 victories in the regular season.
While Erasmus has risen to greater heights with the Springboks, he considers the PRO14 as a vital cog in his education as a modern coach and praised the competition from Japan this week.
"One thing that people underestimate about PRO14 rugby is that it is one of the toughest competitions, certainly one of the toughest that I have coached in," Erasmus said.
"That it compares on all levels to Super Rugby because it is physical, it is tactical, and you are faced with different styles every weekend.
"And then you have a Scottish coach and then a Welsh referee and then you are playing in Italy. You have to contend with different travel times, different weather and different pitches – sometimes even 4G pitches.”
"So it is such an adaptation and you have to analyse every single week. It is not like Super Rugby where you come up against teams that generally play a similar style of rugby."
Erasmus said the competition is a challenge for coaches because of the contrasting styles and cultures from the different nations.
"It is not always a high-pace X-factor thing, it is sometimes a Gregor Townsend Glasgow ball-in-hand style, then Ulster are very different, and Leinster are very different in another way.
"You have to do a hell of a lot of analysis and it is hell of an interesting and challenging.
"And that’s where players really grow and takes ownership of the game. Which eventually makes them better players."
Erasmus added that the addition of South African teams meant a different approach from the local sides.
"Then with SA players going into the system, and I am saying this with the utmost respect because I was part of the South African system since 1994, I think that whole competition taught players to take a lot more ownership where sometimes in SA we just play on a lot of talent and we back that talent.
"They get the best out of those players, and ensure that when they start with them those players are really refined six months later and ready to play professional rugby and excel at all aspects of their game. That would be the difference for me between the PRO14 and maybe the other competitions.”
"Without a doubt I learnt a lot. I became a better coach in Ireland."