Thursday 22 August 2019

Foley banking on Thomond factor to boost Munster hopes

Munster head coach Anthony Foley
Munster head coach Anthony Foley

Alan Smith

Anthony Foley is unlikely to be short of stimulating material considering Munster's meek pool stage exit last season but the threat of old scars being re-opened by one of their great rivals in this tournament adds another layer of motivation for the head coach as this season's Champions Cup looms.

By the time their old foes Leicester arrive in Thomond Park on December 12, with the Reds heading for Welford Road a week later, Foley will have a clear idea of where his team stand having already played Treviso and Stade Francais. However, the prospect of hosting the team that were the first to depart Limerick with a victory, ending a 12-year home winning streak in 2007, certainly whets the appetite.

"It brought back a lot of memories," Foley says of his reaction when first seeing the draw. "We've had some excellent contests along the way. Both clubs have massive respect for one another and there is a great appreciation between the supporters too. There is a knowledge and understanding and I think everybody is really excited about the two facing off against each other."

The 42-year-old replaced Mick O'Driscoll in the second half of that 13-6 defeat and recalls having to play an away quarter-final, a result more painful than letting the record slip.


"It sent us in to an away quarter-final against Scarlets. It was something that was hotly contested but they controlled the game really well. It's obviously a massive achievement for them," Foley (below) said.

"Records are there to be broken. You like to hold on to things for as long as you can but they come to an end and what hurt most was having to play an away quarter-final that year. It's hard to go and I think we worked really hard in the group to get to the stage where we were five from five."

Before considering Richard Cockerill's Tigers, Munster will need to negotiate a pool opener at home to Treviso and a trip to Stade but Foley believes returning Thomond to the fortress of old holds the key to their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals.

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Last weekend, the Munster head coach spoke about the small crowd that witnessed their interprovincial win over Ulster in the Pro12 but he hopes these European fixtures can bring the crowds back.

"We've always had the mentality of getting as much as we can from every game, but what you do at home is your foundation for whether you advance. Losing to Clermont last year meant having to beat Saracens.

"It didn't help but we've got to make sure when at Thomond Park we are on the money and we have got to pick up a couple of results away from home and see where it takes us.

"You want Thomond Park to be full and bouncing," he added. "I've talked about it as a player and as captain of the importance of our supporters to us. They have a massive effect on how we play. We need similar but a larger volume - when we have it everybody rises. The European Cup should send a tingle down everybody's spine and there is excitement there."

While Toulon will attempt to win an unprecedented fourth straight title, the former Shannon back-row is at a loss when trying to predict who will be still swinging in the spring.

"This is such a tough competition. Everyone has the right to play in this competition and there are a lot of very good teams and competitive groups.

"I'd hate to be sitting down and picking winners from these groups. It's tough across the board."

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