Monday 24 October 2016

'Foley may sometimes look like the bulldog who has just licked p**s off a nettle, but he's always worth listening to'

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

15 December 2015; Munster head coach Anthony Foley speaking during a press conference. Munster Rugby Squad Training & Press Conference, Castletroy Park, Hotel, Limerick. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
15 December 2015; Munster head coach Anthony Foley speaking during a press conference. Munster Rugby Squad Training & Press Conference, Castletroy Park, Hotel, Limerick. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Anthony Foley has spent 20 years as either professional player or coach with Munster. Throw in his amateur career, which would have started with Munster schools in the early 1990s, and it's man and boy stuff.

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The past week must be up there with the most difficult he has experienced in that period.

This morning Foley will wake up in the team hotel, within striking distance of Welford Road, and if he doesn't feel queasy about going to a ground where the Tigers are unbeaten in competitive rugby this season then he will have disengaged from his emotional side. Which wouldn't be Foleyesque at all.

For a man who keeps the bitterness pills in the same cabinet as the Alka-Seltzer, there is a certain attraction to today. The bookies are offering his team an eight-point cushion, which means they are expecting something more from Foley's men than we saw in Thomond Park, where they lost by 12 points.

The odd thing about that game was that Munster's dominance of territory and possession yielded so little. They actually played plenty of good rugby, but if you accept that you need the spine of your team in line in order to succeed, then the Reds were doomed. Of that quintet you had Andrew Conway, Ian Keatley and Conor Murray all combining for an aggregate of errors that had been in no one's budget.

So, three defeats in a row that might become four today. And it's conceivable that before the holiday season is out that number stretches to six. Foley was only settling into the gig, at this time of year in 2014, when the coach was also trying to avoid a four-in-a-row, which remains Munster's worst streak of defeats in the pro era.

The background music then was all about the impending move of JJ Hanrahan to Northampton. And coincidentally the man Foley vested his faith in back then, Ian Keatley, is in the frame now, though in slightly different circumstances.

Maybe it was the biting cold, or the pressure of a last-edition deadline, but we didn't notice any abuse hurled in Keatley's direction when he was substituted in Thomond Park last weekend. It wasn't a stadium-wide reaction, but nonetheless it did serve to highlight the difference between supporters and fans. On bad days the former rant over their pints afterwards about the woeful showing of their team. The latter give vent to their feelings while it's unfolding in front of them, not thinking whether it's fair or foul.

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Cheering the substitution of one of your own side is clearly moronic, but making an official statement on the matter is almost as bad. You didn't need X-ray specs to see the story change clumsily from the form of the team to the bad form of the punters.

The Brave and the Faithful have been part of the Munster story, but their self-importance has grown like a mushroom cloud that now covers the country. Few things on a rugby match-day are as tedious as listening to a public address announcement on the issue of affording silence to the man standing over the tee.

If punters want to whistle and blow air horns at goal-kickers then let them at it. The truth is that most kickers would much rather the ambient racket to the painful hush imposed by officialdom. Moreover it is policed with zeal by those for whom silence has become a competitive sport. Then we got wind of Foley's contract extension. Its timing was unavoidable, but the coincidence of crap results is awkward for both parties. It would have been fine if Munster wanted to turf him - which they don't - but quite the opposite if they wanted to row in behind him.

Instead we now hear the change will come in Munster's backroom with Michael Bradley in line to replace Brian Walsh, who is understood to be going back to the banking world. Adding a coach with lots of pro experience to the coaching roster would make sense. Adding one whose experience is mostly at the wrong end of league tables however would not.

In the meantime Foley will be under ever increasing scrutiny. Over the last week he got some criticism from former colleagues on his post-match interviews. One suggested to us that Foley should take a leaf from Leo Cullen's book in these situations and take a one-way ticket to Planet Bland, which is a wee bit harsh on the Leinster coach.

In fairness to Foley, he may sometimes look like the bulldog who has just licked piss off a nettle, but when he talks about what was good and bad in a game it's always worth listening to. Tune in pre- and post-match today to see if he's changed his tune.

Leicester Tigers: T Veainu; A Thompstone, P Betham, M Smith, V Goneva; F Burns, B Youngs; M Ayerza, T Youngs, D Cole, M Fitzgerald, G Kichener, E Slater (capt), L McCaffrey, B O'Connor. Replacements: H Thacker, M Aguero, F Balmain, D Barrow, T Croft, S Harrison, T Bell, S Bai.

Munster: A Conway; K Earls, F Saili, D Hurley, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; J Cronin, M Sherry, J Ryan, M Chisholm, D Ryan, R Copeland, CJ Stander (capt), D O'Callaghan. Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, M Sagario, D Foley, J O'Donoghue, T O'Leary, R Scannell, L Gonzalez Amorosino

Referee: J Garces (France)

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