Sunday 22 September 2019

Foley staying patient as contracts take centre stage

ANTHONY FOLEY's mind was firmly focused on Stade Francais yesterday as he prepared his team at the University of Limerick and headed around the corner for the pre-match press conference.

A few hours later, the Parisian club announced the postponement of Sunday's fixture in the wake of Friday night's terrorist attacks on the French capital after consulting with local security forces.

The Munster coach had conceded that a game of rugby was of limited importance in the greater scheme of things, but now he has an unexpected free weekend.

Fixture chaos awaits with tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) set to re-fix the games postponed last weekend along with the Stade v Munster fixture for the last weekend in November, meaning they may have to play their Guinness Pro12 game against Connacht midweek or during the Six Nations.

A rare break in the packed post-World Cup calendar may afford Foley some time for reflection, while he'll also hope that it may give IRFU performance director David Nucifora a chance to sort out some key contracts that need to be secured.

Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and Keith Earls are among the Ireland contingent up for renewal at the end of the season, while CJ Stander is also out of contract in 2016.

Zebo has been linked with moves to Stade Francais and Pau, while Murray and Earls will be of interest to the big-spenders from abroad. Stander's outstanding early season form is unlikely to have gone unnoticed either.


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Foley has spoken with Nucifora about their plans and admitted that the process, being out of Munster's hands, can be frustrating.

"The conversations that we would have had with him would have been during the summer," he said.

"It just takes time from there. It becomes a patience game. Obviously a lot of guys who are at the World Cup don't want to be talking contracts when they are at the World Cup. Guys in the middle of the group stages don't want to be annoyed.

"He (Nucifora) has got to pick his moments around talking to these players and make sure everyone's across it.

"That's the nature of our business. Unfortunately, it's not a monopoly. Players are entitled when they are off-contract to look for employment elsewhere.

"We want to keep all our best players, that's why it can seem to be frustrating, but you have got to trust in the process that's going on in the background and make sure we don't want to lose our best players."

Two academy prospects left for pastures new at the end of last season and the criticism for the departure of JJ Hanrahan to Northampton Saints has clearly stung Foley.

"I often heard it said that we could have kept JJ Hanrahan. JJ Hanrahan left because JJ Hanrahan wanted to leave. Paddy Butler left (for Pau) because Paddy Butler wanted to leave. These fellas wanted to leave and when fellas want to leave there isn't a whole pile you can do about it," he said.

"You can offer them your best contract, talk to them about where you see their future and all that, but if they are adamant around the change there isn't a whole pile you can do."

Foley admitted he is enjoying the job more in his second season as head coach. His side sit second in the Pro12, while they secured a bonus-point win at home to Treviso in their European opener against Treviso last weekend.

"Last year, you lose a few games at the start and it puts a stress on the rest of the season," he explained.

"Particularly the couple of games we lost at home early. We wouldn't enjoy losing at home in Thomond Park. This year there's been games we could have lost (this season), there's no doubt about it, but we found a way to win. You give a lot of credit to your decision-makers and your elder leaders out there, and how they go about managing those last few minutes of games.

"We've been down to the wire on a number of occasions and aside from losing with the last kick of the game against the Scarlets, we tended to come out on the other end of those results. Even on the weekend, I'd be full of confidence that once we got the third try, the boys would find a way to get the fourth.

"They showed a lot of character and a lot of patience in that game. We're a lot longer down the road now, they know us better as a coaching group, they know me better as a coach, they know Squeaks (Brian Walsh), Cossie (Ian Costello), Micko (O'Driscoll) and Fla (Jerry Flannery) better as coaches than what they would have this time last year.

"There's always a get-to-know-you phase, and I think we've had a couple of good pre-seasons now and a season last year with ups and downs. It's about growing and I think within the group now there's a fair amount of excitement about where people are getting to and where the next generation are coming from."

In the meantime, Munster will allow the likes of Murray and Dave O'Callaghan, who sat out training yesterday, a further rest period ahead of the re-fixed game against Stade or their meeting with Connacht.

Tyler Bleyendaal is working on a quad muscle injury and was not available this weekend. Mike Sherry had a consultation with knee surgeon Ray Moran on his latest injury, while Duncan Casey had scans on his pectoral injury.

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony has undergone surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament injury he suffered in Ireland's win over France at the World Cup.

He is expected to be out for the season.

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