Monday 24 July 2017

Foley factor putting Reds on front foot

Munster 34 Edinburgh 17

Edinburgh's Mike Blair is tackled by
Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan during
Saturday's Pro12 clash at Thomond
Edinburgh's Mike Blair is tackled by Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan during Saturday's Pro12 clash at Thomond Park
David Kelly

David Kelly

Teams may grow old, but the simplest, most effective traditions rarely do.

That these are better transition times than of late for Munster was emphasised once again on Saturday night when the core values of grizzled veterans neatly combined with the infectious character of irrepressible youth.

A boisterous scrum, essentially turning this entertaining encounter on its head in the 55th minute, secured Munster their third penalty try of the season, pushing them into an 18-10 lead with the boon of having two extra men on the field.

From there, they drove on to a handsome bonus-win, young Ennis debutant Luke O'Dea pouncing gleefully to claim the fourth try, appropriately enough in the corner nearest the Shannon clubhouse.

Given the remarkable statistic showing that 22 of the 23 Munster squad on display were home-grown, a grizzled Shannon man of old, now charged with aiding the red revolution in playing staff, was quietly pleased.


"You're delighted when you make 13 changes," said Anthony Foley, the current forwards coach and an obvious head coach in the making around these parts.

"It takes a while to bed in, but we'd a good week's training under our belts. To come out and get a bonus-point win against an Edinburgh team in good form was a good day out for us.

"The aim is always to get the win, the same in every game. You target your home games to win. But when they had only 13 men on and we'd three tries, you go after them and, fortunately, Luke got over in the corner. So, very happy with five points."

Aside from O'Dea, whose pace and composure shone brightly on the wing, Munster's young back-row impressed, while Stephen Archer performed impressively within and without the scrum. Simon Zebo, the next best thing for too long now, remains enigmatic, but the talent is clearly there; it merely needs to be harnessed.

Will Chambers, the only non-Munster voice on show, continues to adapt to life in red and his team-mates are beginning to appreciate his propensity for the 'Sonny Bill' off-loads.

Danny Barnes' slick opening try, created by Denis Hurley -- arguably a better full-back option than current incumbent Johne Murphy were it not for a lax kicking game -- was cancelled out by a soft concession to Phil Godman after Ian Keatley's poor chip was intercepted.

However, Ronan O'Gara's understudy, Keatley, atoned for the error with two penalties to send Munster in 13-5 ahead.

Edinburgh scored first in the second half through Tim Brown, but their failure to clear the resultant restart with the aid of a strong wind would cost them dearly. That was the "pivotal moment," according to Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley. Zebo countered thrillingly and, as Munster sensed blood, tight-head Jack Gilding was binned for a professional foul.

Munster's powerful scrum upped the ante against seven and then, after Neil Paterson binned loose-head Kyle Traynor and persisted with the same set-piece scenario for five minutes and three penalties, the penalty try was eventually awarded.

At 20-10, it was a tide-turner and Munster ensured the guests were swept away when Chambers' neat pass sent Zebo over for 27-10, allowing Munster enough wriggle room to quell a predictably breathless comeback from the Heineken Cup surprise packets.

"The scrum is a part of the game that Munster would like to traditionally think they're strong at," observed Foley, whose voice has become imperceptibly more influential in recent months.

"At times over the previous couple of seasons, we were shown up there. But we've gone about addressing it and, hopefully, come the end of the season, we can look back and say the scrum was a major part of our season."

Foley's defence of stout principles are, one might conjecture, a rejection of a rather skewed philosophy pursued while his predecessor -- Lawrie Fisher -- was in town.

"We all have views on rugby and very few would have the same opinion," he says. "I've been brought up in rugby to think that forwards have to dominate certain aspects of the game, otherwise you're wasting your time.

"That goes for line-out, it goes for maul, it goes for restart, it goes for scrum, it goes for breakdown. Across the board. I don't put one above the other.

"It's an important part of the Munster history. Any time we've done well, it's been because of a dominant forward pack. People might try to talk us out of it at times, but I think there's a lot of value in what we have."


In Munster, as always, those values are bequeathed from one line of players to the next; with veterans like Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan and Mick O'Driscoll still raging against the withering of their light.

"A lot of us are pushing on in years and it's vital for these guys to step up to the mark," offers O'Driscoll. "We're not going to stand aside for them either, but it's important for them to come in and learn. And with us beside them, it can only be good for Munster in the long run."

And so with 13 changes, and the same number again in the infirmary, that blend of experience and youth served Munster well before an appreciative crowd of 11,900 as Tony McGahan's men rose to third in the RaboDirect Pro 12 table, just a short head behind joint leaders Ospreys and Leinster.

"There's an amazing amount of talent there and at times we overlook it," muses Foley. Belatedly, Munster are having a closer look.

Munster -- D Hurley; L O'Dea, W Chambers, D Barnes (T Gleeson 77), S Zebo; I Keatley (S Deasy 77), T O'Leary (D Williams, 68); M Horan (J Ryan 74), D Fogarty (S Henry 68), S Archer (J Hayes 68); D O'Callaghan (I Nagle 77), M O'Driscoll (capt); B Holland, T O'Donnell, P Butler (J Coughlan 66).

Edinburgh -- C Paterson (G Hunter 78); S Visser, J Thompson (H Leonard 22), J King (R Hislop 57), T Brown; P Godman (G Laidlaw 64), M Blair; K Traynor, S Lawrie (capt), J Gilding; S Cox, S Turnbull (E Lozada 70), N Talei (R Grant 70), R Rennie (L Niven 53), S McInally.

Ref -- N Paterson (SRU)

Irish Independent

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