Sunday 25 February 2018

Foley: We didn't spend enough time on the pitch last season

Munster head coach Anthony Foley speaks to his players during their training session in Limerick this week. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster head coach Anthony Foley speaks to his players during their training session in Limerick this week. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

While he wasn't exactly grinning from ear to ear, there was a noticeable change in Anthony Foley's demeanour as he looked ahead to the coming season.

Perhaps it was the kind of positivity that occurs during every pre-season but it was more likely to have coincided with the arrival of Rassie Erasmus.

Munster's poor handling of the announcement of Erasmus as the club's new director of rugby left Foley on the back foot last April but the pair seem fully prepared to work in tandem.

Foley had the look of a man who had a burden lifted from his shoulders and even though his contract only runs until the end of the season, Erasmus has already made it clear that he wants the former number eight to be a part of the long-term plan.


Munster's indigenous coaching team was a resounding failure and all that is left of it is Foley and scrum coach Jerry Flannery.

This is very much a new era for the province but last season's shortcomings still linger like a bad smell.

"We've obviously spent a lot of money and time recruiting players and not enough time spent on the pitch," comes Foley's "brutally honest" assessment of what went wrong.

A startling admission from the head coach who also concedes that as well as his role changing, his focus is now very much on the short-term.

The official line of what Foley's brief entails is lineouts and the breakdown but taking Erasmus at face value earlier this week would suggest that he remains an integral part of the Munster set-up.

"Look, a few of the responsibilities have changed," Foley explains.

"Rassie's view is long-term, my view is short-term. My view is basically the preparation for the games that are coming up, looking at the opposition, making sure that the tactics that we've set out are adhered to.

"We're getting a lot of work into the players. It's a bigger volume of work than what they would be used to.

"Hopefully that's good and hopefully we can get changes in behaviour and changes in performance.

"I think at times you lean on people a lot for sounding boards or whatever.

"They're (Erasmus and Nienaber) coming from places with a lot of experience and a high level of rugby.

"It's good to have people like that in and around Munster. It's great that they're sharing their experiences. We're all learning and we are all getting better."

Experience is something that was desperately lacking in Munster's coaching staff in recent times and the board has rectified that by bringing in two highly reputable South African coaches.

"The old principles are strong principles," according to Foley and it's difficult to disagree.

Erasmus appears to have a clear understanding of the Munster philosophy and given that he played his first ever game for South Africa against Ireland in the old Musgrave Park, there is a deep-rooted connection.

"The players are a year older, they have another year playing under their belt," Foley says.

"They are not as inexperienced as they were at times last year. Everyone was a young player once and everyone made mistakes. It is important that the only issue you ever have is repeating the same mistakes. They are the ones you bang your head against a wall with.

"There are a lot of young guys there with a lot of good enthusiasm and a lot of goodwill within the squad to do well for one another. If that can translate onto the pitch, I think we will be a hard team to beat."

Munster have seen their long-time Thomond Park fortress ambushed too often in recent seasons and Foley admits that their home form is crucial for the upcoming campaign.

The attendances have plummeted but Foley has been through this before as a player and, as he explains, there is only one way of rectifying that.


"I'm fully aware that you can play whatever type of rugby you want but if you're not playing a brand that's going to win you games and win your supporters back, it becomes a self-defeating prophecy," he insists.

"I suppose there needs to be an emphasis and a focus on getting people back into Thomond Park. We need to fill it and make it as an intimidating venue as it can be and making sure that those 50-50, 60-40 decisions go our way.

"The team on the pitch will ebb and flow, because that's the nature of sport. There's no team ever who has been successful decade on decade. The club is the history, the thing you should follow and that should be the passion you have."

Munster have had to learn that the hard way but as a new era begins, Foley is out to ensure that the same mistakes are not made again.

Irish Independent

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