Friday 30 September 2016

Munster adjusting to life after O'Connell as Foley looks for leaders

Published 25/08/2015 | 02:30

Munster's head coach Anthony Foley has been trying to fill the leadership void left by the departing Paul O'Connell
Munster's head coach Anthony Foley has been trying to fill the leadership void left by the departing Paul O'Connell

Although life after Paul O'Connell has effectively already begun at Munster, the Ireland captain's frequent visits to the gym and pitch at the University of Limerick means it can be hard to get your head around.

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According to coach Anthony Foley, there was no address to the dressing-room when the second-row decided he would move to Toulon after the World Cup rather than continue to the end of next season or retire. It was all decidedly low key.

During Ireland's down-weeks, the 35-year-old has been working on his fitness with his former provincial colleagues in the national set-up alongside his old team-mates from Munster.

Yet, come the end of Joe Schmidt's side's involvement at the World Cup, he will jet off to the south of France to begin his next chapter. At that stage, Munster will have already begun the moving-on process.

Former Wallaby Mark Chisholm is awaiting work permit clearance to begin training with the squad, having completed his medical last week and Foley has had to find the characters from within his squad to fill the leadership vacuum left behind.

"Once I had a conversation with him and he said he was going to finish up after the World Cup, I knew he was finished with Munster," Foley said at the Guinness Pro12 launch yesterday.

"That's why we went searching for a replacement.

"You always have to try and be careful about filling something that was there; you don't want to artificially fill it, you want people to grow into it as well and people to find their feet and earn their own place within the squad.

"I don't think we want somebody going 'here, look, Paul did this last year, we want to be doing this too', you know.

"It is about people finding their own role their own way. Hopefully we have enough people in the squad to kick on and find their own way.

"Peter (O'Mahony) has been captain for a few years and it is important that he develops as well. But we have other lads in our squad, they are leaders as well, Denis (Hurley) is a proven leader in the group and we have other leaders developing.

"We can't have just one person the whole time who is the beacon, and we haven't had that either. From the outside it might be perceived that Paul was - but we had immense leaders within the group, not one fella the whole time."

For stand-in captain Hurley, the reality of O'Connell's move won't kick in until he sees him basking in the sunshine at the Stade Felix Mayol, but he believes the squad can absorb the loss of an icon.

"He is in now and again," revealed the centre, who will miss the early part of the season with an ankle injury.

"A couple of the Irish lads could be doing a gym session and then out on the pitch for a fitness session.

"It is not until after the World Cup when you actually see him running out with Toulon maybe that it will really (sink in), that we will say 'yeah, he is definitely gone'.

"We have a lot of good characters in the group. There were times last year when the internationals were away that there were guys that were able to come on and have that bit of leadership on the field that was needed at times.

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"There are guys there that can step in. Peter has shown how well he can lead in the last couple of seasons.

"So there are guys there that can do a job on that front; as much as you would miss Paulie, things have got to move on at some stage. As a squad we have just got to adapt to that and make the best of that."

While replacing the aura that O'Connell brings will be far from straightforward, the nuts and bolts of second-row play need to be accounted for, and Foley believes that Chisholm will do a decent job of standing in and performing.

"When Paulie was saying he was leaving, he was retiring and then going to Toulon, we started searching a while ago and obviously we needed to find a player of a quality that would fit into our group," the coach explained.

"There are criteria that a number of fellas have to come into: you look at the rugby, you look at the athleticism, you look at the experience, you find out around the character that is there.

"We were fortunate to know a few people who knew Australian rugby and who know Mark Chisholm - (IRFU performance director) David Nucifora would have worked with Mark so there was a good lever there to find out about the lad.

"He has got experience, he is durable - he was captain of Bayonne last year, he played in every game."

Irish Independent

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