Wednesday 28 September 2016

Foley backs Reds to regroup for trip to Tigers 'fortress'

Published 14/12/2015 | 02:30

Keith Earls shows his disappointment at the final whistle
Keith Earls shows his disappointment at the final whistle

There were times last year when Richard Cockerill, Leicester to the bone, honestly felt he might lose his job; six months later, the two-time champions stand poised to qualify for the European quarter-finals.

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Some of the more firebrand, insurrectionist members of the Munster fan group may be currently harbouring similar ideas about one of their own kin as Anthony Foley's struggles with his hobbling squad manifestly continue.

Eighty minutes on Saturday didn't eradicate those particular thoughts and there is little logic to suggest next Sunday's 80 minutes can, either, despite Cockerill's attempt to engender solidarity with the familiar position of an embattled coach.

"Munster are a good side and they have been criticised unfairly at the start of this season from what I have seen of them," said the former England hooker.

"They're a good team. We came here with a huge amount of respect for them and the scoreline probably flattered us a bit.

"We will have to re-double our efforts next week and we know Munster will too. They have to come to Leicester and they have to win. That makes them very dangerous."

Foley is anticipating such a response from his men but where once there was an assumption that this would be the case, now there seems to be much more apprehension.

Exasperated

"We need to have a close look at the video, see where we can go after them again," said the exasperated head coach, whose side cling to the fact that they have never lost in Welford Road.

Leicester top the pool on 14 points and it is not merely their one-game advantage over rivals Stade Francais and Munster - who must still meet each other back-to-back - that makes them firm favourites to advance to the last eight.

"If we can win next week, then we have 18 points before we entertain Treviso and that certainly puts us in a good position to qualify before we go to Paris," observed Cockerill.

"So next week is absolutely critical. We won't take anything lightly. Munster are a fantastic club, steeped in tradition. They played very well tonight, we probably got the rub of the green."

Luck alone is not a lady upon which Munster can pin their hopes.

"We have to go after the game," added Foley. "It's a fortress, they'll be well supported over there. It's a good old-fashioned rugby pitch, it'll be sapping on everyone and it's important that we go over there and try and get a result."

"We've four games left in this group, you know, so within any context you'd like to think you can win all four but you've got to go one step at a time. It's not in the plan to lose this one but we need to regather ourselves, refocus and try and get a result over there."

Tyler Bleyendaal - specifically recruited from New Zealand when it emerged that neither JJ Hanrahan nor Ian Keatley seemed likely to be offered long-term security at out-half - has been dogged by injury, the latest a persistent quad problem.

After being withdrawn before kick-off - despite the issue emerging at the previous day's place-kicking practice during the Captain's Run - Foley's assessment that the issue "needs investigation" is extremely worrying.

Particularly in the context of Keatley's unfortunate meltdown.

The immediate crisis foreshadows a much wider concern for the direction of Munster rugby; it can be difficult to find common ground amidst the vast distance between those advocating public hangings to those counselling for more reasoned assessments.

Cockerill, wallowing in the sympathy of the victor as well as the empathy of one who has suffered difficult times in the hot-seat himself, advised against panic.

"Munster are very similar to ourselves in that they've seen a generation of players come and go in recent years," the Tigers boss said.

"And it takes a little bit of time to find your feet again. I've been criticised for only reaching a semi-final in domestic competition having won it a year before.

"I understand the pressure Anthony Foley feels because I've been there and I'm still there on a weekly basis.

"They will re-build and they are still a very good club and they could have won the game tonight if things had gone differently."

With a re-match imminent, Cockerill can't afford cockiness.

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