Friday 20 October 2017

Alan Quinlan: Munster won't fear Paris rivals but rather their return to a city that evokes such pain

The players must channel the emotion in the correct manner and if they do so, they will again honour Axel in the best possible manner

It promises to be a very emotional day in Paris
It promises to be a very emotional day in Paris
'Erasmus has been a class act and he has really been the glue that has kept everything together during these difficult last few months.' Photo: Sportsfile

Alan Quinlan

Pride is the overriding emotion that I feel as Munster return to the city where so many hearts were broken. I'm proud of how the players have responded since Anthony's passing. I'm proud of how the rugby community has rallied around the Foley family. I'm proud to be a Munster man.

Every step along Munster's journey this weekend will evoke painful memories but the only thing they can control is their performance on the pitch.

That is something that the players have done in the last few months - they have forgotten about the result and concentrated on putting in a performance befitting of the jersey that they are wearing. I wouldn't like to be playing this Munster team this afternoon.

I've said this before, but for me growing up, any time you pull on that Munster jersey, you have to do it justice. There are no two ways about it.

That was what Anthony was always about - putting pride in jersey and bringing out that passion. I think a lot of the newer guys have really learned the true meaning of that this season.

For all the ex-players that played with Anthony, we always remained close but the current group had to go into training week after week without one of their key voices there to guide them.

It's difficult to comprehend just how tough that must be for the current squad and they deserve so much credit for how they've carried themselves.

In times of crisis, you need leadership and Munster have that in their dressing room. They will understand that they must channel that emotion in the right way and not let it get the better of them.

The biggest fear will be being back in Paris and not about playing Racing. It's about having to relive that horror again and dealing with it in the best possible manner.

They need people to step up and some players will need a little bit more help than others. If the last few months are anything to go by however, this group will stick together and fight for each other.

Axel did that himself throughout his career. From the first time I played with him from a young age, he was a born winner but the level of pride and passion that he brought to every jersey he played in, was something that the rest of us fed off.

When our backs were against the ball, he never panicked. He was never someone who would scream and roar at us in the dressing room but his messages were always clear.

You need that calmness, especially when other guys are bouncing off the walls. Anthony was always big on making sure that we controlled the controllables and that's what he will want his team to do today.

There's pressure in sport and expectations are built off the back of success. We didn't have that kind of expectation when I first started playing. It began after we were making Heineken Cup finals.

Rassie Erasmus has made subtle changes this season but make no mistake about it, he hasn't reinvented the wheel. He's really reinforced the pride and passion factor and guys' attitudes have improved.

If you go back to Rob Penney's time, he tried to change a lot in a short space of time. Changing game-plans takes time and I think Erasmus understands that.

Change can often be good and that's been proven in Munster this season. The unfortunate thing is that Anthony isn't around to see that change and be part of it.

It's not just because Anthony has passed away that performances have improved however. I said this at the start of the season, there was a feel-good factor back in Munster.

There was a huge determination to prove people wrong after last season's disappointments and they were doing that, even when Anthony was with them.

Having known him for so long, I know what this club meant to him. He always wore his heart on his sleeve and wanted the team to well at all costs. That was always Anthony's priority - the team. He would be genuinely delighted to see the progress that Munster are making now, even if it is under new stewardship.

Erasmus walked into a tricky enough position when he became Munster's first director of rugby but he immediately saw what Anthony brought to the set-up and he was keen to utilise him as much as he could.

Everybody will have been affected differently by Anthony's passing but Erasmus (right) has been a class act and he has really been the glue that has kept everything together during these difficult last few months.

You have to keep reminding yourself that this guy is still only new in the country and only knew Anthony for a short time. But you wouldn't know that from listening to him speak.

In the exact same way that Anthony did in his time in charge, Erasmus has never shirked his responsibilities in front of the media and you can tell by the emotion with which he speaks, you can see that this has impacted him as well.

Sport has this incredible ability to bring people together, even during the toughest of times and nothing summed that up more than the outpouring at Thomond Park, a day after Anthony's funeral.

The players put in an incredible performance that would have had him looking down smiling. They honoured Axel in the best possible manner and they have done since. I'm sure that will be the case again this afternoon.

There is a belief that Munster can win these big European games again and as I mentioned earlier, the players won't fear this Racing side.

Racing are wounded and very frustrated with how their European campaign has gone this season but they won't roll over at home. French teams rarely do.

Contracts

All of their front-line players might not be starting today but you have guys who will be playing for future contracts. Sometimes when you make changes, it can be more difficult for the opposition team.

But again, Munster just have to focus on their own performance. The set-piece has been really good this season and if it is again today, it will lay a platform for them to play in the right areas of the pitch. It's the same old story every time you play in France in front of a passionate crowd.

Apart from everything has happened, this is a tough assignment but we've seen it so often over the years, that is what they thrive on. Anthony always relished these sort of challenges and today would be no different.

It's so difficult to comprehend that he was integral to their game-plan when they arrived in Paris back in October but they never got to carry it out.

When someone passes away, it reminds you to cherish the simple things in life. When that someone is taken so young, it reinforces that notion. My thoughts keep going back to his wife and kids and the rest of his family.

I don't think I will ever get my head around how or why this has happened but I want to remember Anthony for the good days that we had. Going into battle alongside him was, and always will be a real honour.

I'm proud to have called Anthony a friend.

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