Monday 26 September 2016

'I have to make sure I am doing the right thing for the team I love' - Munster coach Anthony Foley

Munster 26 Stade Francais 13

Published 18/01/2016 | 02:30

Munster's Simon Zebo scores his side's third try in his team's European Rugby Champions Cup clash against Stade Francais. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Munster's Simon Zebo scores his side's third try in his team's European Rugby Champions Cup clash against Stade Francais. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Cathartic as this performance and win over French champions Stade Francais was, Munster still woke up yesterday morning out of Europe. It will only count for something if they use the work rate and effort they showed at Thomond Park as a baseline for their season.

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There is no escaping the fact that Anthony Foley, his team, fans and the entire Munster organisation needed something from this game and will all have been lifted by the sight of Keith Earls scorching over from halfway and Simon Zebo latching on to Ian Keatley's deft chip to score.

Indeed, the other two tries in this bonus-point win will have been satisfying as Mike Sherry bundled over from the back of a dominant maul and CJ Stander did what CJ Stander does on yet another man of the match display.

But all the joy that rang around the 14,000 or so who braved the lunchtime kick-off and freezing conditions to stick by their team in Limerick, there is also an expectation that this represents the standard.

Munster's Mike Sherry goes over to score his side's first try of the European Rugby Champions Cup clash against Stade Francais. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Munster's Mike Sherry goes over to score his side's first try of the European Rugby Champions Cup clash against Stade Francais. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

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Foley conceded that the performance had its imperfections, but it was the work rate and effort that pleased him.

"That has to be a given," the under-fire head coach said.

"People will drop passes, people will miss kicks at goal but you can cover it up with hard work and effort, and covering up for one another. I think that's always been the case.

"You can't question it. Like, you go back to the Leicester game. They were out on their feet and execution was letting us down, and sometimes trying harder, harder and harder doesn't fix it, so we've been working hard on the small bits to try and make sure that when the effort is where it's at the execution can be close to it as well.

"It's in our DNA in and around here to make sure that the jersey is the most important thing and we represent it. I thought the boys played with a lot of ferocity out there, and they had to."

Munster's Tommy O'Donnell is tackled by Stade Francais player Zak Taulafo. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Munster's Tommy O'Donnell is tackled by Stade Francais player Zak Taulafo. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Foley will continue to mull over his big decision as to whether he is the right man to lead this team forward, but he will have been heartened by the grit shown in adverse conditions.

"I have to make sure I'm doing the right thing for the team I love," he said, reiterating his desire to take his time with the decision.

"It's hard at times. I'm looking at where we're going and am I the right person to do it. I question myself hard - I did it as a player and I got results because I looked at myself first and I never blamed anyone else before I looked at my contribution."

Munster's start will have filled him with dread, they went behind within seconds of the kick-off and then had their scrum annihilated by a superior Stade outfit, but they problem-solved their way out of the tricky situation and eventually turned the set-piece on its head.

With Sherry setting the tone with an aggressive display that must have garnered the attention of the watching Joe Schmidt, the men in black hurled themselves at Stade's ball-carriers and defended far better than they had done last week in Paris.

The opening try came from a scrum penalty and lineout maul, but Keatley's missed conversion took some of the good from it.

Munster's Ronan O'Mahony is tackled by Stade Francais players Paul Williams, left, and Hugo Bonneval. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Munster's Ronan O'Mahony is tackled by Stade Francais players Paul Williams, left, and Hugo Bonneval. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Morne Steyn kicked Stade back in front as Munster huffed and puffed with ball in hand without ever really threatening to break free.

That is until the moments before half-time when Earls spotted Pascal Pape in front of him and fancied his chances. Backing himself to the hilt, the Ireland winger stood the former France second-row up and raced for the line, using momentum and the slick surface to carry Sekou Macalou over with him.

Keatley knocked over the conversion and Munster were carried to the dressing-room on a wave of noise.

The score infused them with confidence and just two minutes into the second half Stade were gathering under their posts again as Sherry surged towards their '22, before Keatley brilliantly found the on-rushing Zebo with a delicious chip.

Yet Munster needed character to get this one over the line. They lost Ronan O'Mahony to the sin-bin after he took Hugo Bonneval out in the air, but held out for the 10 minutes despite Stade throwing everything at them.

"When we saw that card everyone had to switch on, had to double-job, had to cover someone on the pitch and to get that response from the players," Stander said.

"Everyone just stepped up. I didn't even have to talk to them to get that from the players. That was the difference in the second half, for sure."

Having gotten through that difficulty, the Reds then handed their visitors a handy try as an over-throw from the lineout handed Jonathan Ross as easy a run-in as he'll get.

But Munster simply weren't going to lose this one. After a sustained attack took them within five metres of the Stade line, Conor Murray quick-tapped a penalty and Stander followed up from close range.

That secured a facile bonus point, but it meant something to the fans who stood by their team and will now hope to see the anger and anguish of the past week challenged into a Guinness Pro12 title bid. For Foley, the experience was bittersweet and seeing his team play to their potential when it was too late was a sign of what might have been.

"We didn't pick up anything out of three games in our group so that's bitterly disappointing," he reflected.

"Obviously the one that we lost at home, it's the kind of stuff we don't want to have happen. So it was good today but in the broad picture of things it's very bittersweet.

"There's a big foundation of work already in place in there and we'll get the fruits of our labour as we go through, from the work done.

"I don't think we'll change a whole pile in what we're trying to do, just narrow it again next week and make sure that we get one or two points across that will really have an effect over in Treviso."

That trip to Italy will be one of the lowest key games Munster have ever played in Europe, but Foley will look to build on the performance in Limerick before they lose their internationals for the Six Nations and take on Zebre, Ospreys and Glasgow Warriors.

This was a start.

MUNSTER - S Zebo; K Earls, F Saili, R Scannell, R O'Mahony (L Amorosino 61); I Keatley, C Murray (T O'Leary 74); D Kilcoyne (L O'Connor 77), M Sherry (N Scannell 70), M Sagario (J Ryan 49), D Foley, M Chisholm (D Ryan 49); B Holland (R Copeland 70), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander (capt, J O'Donoghue 74).

STADE FRANÇAIS - H Bonneval; W Vuidarvuwalu, J Danty, P Williams, J Arias; M Steyn (J Plisson 74), J Dupuy (J Tomas 74); Z Taulafo (H van der Merwe 61), L Panis, R Slimani (P Alo Emile 61); P Gabrillagues, P Papé (H Pyle 66), S Macalou (S Nicolas 59), J Ross, S Parisse (capt).

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