Monday 16 September 2019

Foley's rotational approach has Munster well placed for Europe

Anthony Foley speaks with Jerry Flannery during training ahead of their game against Treviso
Anthony Foley speaks with Jerry Flannery during training ahead of their game against Treviso
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Last weekend after Leinster's victory over Scarlets, Leo Cullen was keen to point out that he had used 50 players in the first seven games of the season.

It's an impressive figure for this early on in the campaign and when you consider that Munster are up to 42, it gives you an insight into the squad depth of both provinces.

Ulster's count is below both while Connacht have had the most settled squad during the disruptive World Cup period.

The Westerners may well have one eye on the Pro12 this season and justifiably so but for the other three provinces beginning their Champions Cup campaigns this weekend, the major challenge for each coach is to quickly find their strongest possible XV.

The returning (fit) internationals have all been embedded back into their clubs, albeit not for long but the next two weeks are vital as they look to gather momentum before heading into next month's crucial back-to-back fixtures that invariably decide the pool.

Cullen admitted that 50 was "a lot" of players to have used but it clearly indicates that crucial future planning is in place.

"We scoured the (Ulster Bank League) clubs, making sure we got a few extra bodies into the mix. We integrated the academy into all of our training so they're fully integrated into the senior programme," Cullen explained.

Anthony Foley, like Cullen, has "more than a few headaches" ahead of his team selection for the visit of Treviso tomorrow but he has adopted a similar progressive approach to his Leinster counterpart.

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Of the 42 players that Munster have used to date, four are still in the academy and their second-place position in the Pro12 table is a testament to how well they have performed without several of their front-line players.

The likes of Jack O'Donoghue, Stephen Fitzgerald and Rory Scannell have taken their chance but the time has now come for Foley to find a settled starting XV that can carry Munster through this pivotal period.

A lot of the talk from the Munster camp this week has been around the new generation of players and Foley is confident that his rotational approach has helped put Munster in a good place heading into Europe.

"Look, if you go through our last few teams, we're making seven or eight changes for games," Foley remarked.

"The boys are still performing. I wouldn't make the changes if I didn't feel like we could still win the games but what it's showing up is that we have a lot of quality there.

"A lot of fellas are getting the opportunity and they want to take it and get into the European Cup team.

"It leaves you in a place where you have to sit down long and hard and think about what games are coming ahead and what's the best XV for the this weekend.

"It's not about giving fellas chances on the training pitch, they earn the right to play and it's about them producing performances.

"As a group, they are growing. They are by no means the finished article which you wouldn't expect but I think they are growing and are becoming more cohesive.

"They are starting to get the same familiarities that we've always had in the past," he added.

Foley's honeymoon period is over now that he is in his second season in charge of his home province but there is no question that he will be given the time to put his own stamp on the team.

The fact that he referred to the 'familiarities of old' should excite supporters as that is what their previous successes have been predicated on but there is also an exciting new look to the options that Foley has on his hands compared to years gone by.

The selection headaches that he faces before naming his team this afternoon is something that every coach strives for as he rightly suggested.

Munster have been coy on the severity of Tyler Bleyendaal's quad injury that has seen him miss out lately but Lucas Amorosino was singled out for praise by Foley. Both are exciting backs, just what Munster have been crying out for.

The changing of the guard is well under way but if Munster are to be successful, it is imperative that Foley soon finds his strongest starting XV.

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