Sunday 15 December 2019

Munster look to move on as Foley gets new era under way

Munster head coach Anthony Foley speaking during a press conference ahead of their Guinness PRO12 round 1 match against Edinburgh. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Munster head coach Anthony Foley speaking during a press conference ahead of their Guinness PRO12 round 1 match against Edinburgh. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THE new era begins under a cloud at Thomond Park tonight as Munster look to move the discussion back to rugby after a week of email embarrassment.

As he pondered his opening months in charge of his beloved province, Anthony Foley could not have imagined a more distracting build-up to his first game, but there is no taking back the mistake that led to his squad receiving a detailed player review document by email nine days ago and he must now persuade them to perform.

The error was not of his making, but despite the brave face put on things this week it has to have had an impact in a dressing-room where everybody knows where their neighbour stands. Foley has long been touted as a Munster coach-in-waiting and if he manages his way through this situation well he'll have gotten off to a flying start.

His tactic of trying to turn the tables on those reporting the news in an attempt to create a siege mentality is a questionable one and if the articles are pinned on the dressing-room walls tonight, then Munster will perhaps be the first team to have been writing themselves off before the season starts.

The players managed to put the unfortunate situation to one side for their final pre-season game against London Irish last weekend, but tonight should mark a step up in intensity.

Edinburgh were poor last season, but Alan Solomons is a clever coach who has recruited heavily from the southern hemisphere with mixed results thus far.

They have only won once in Ireland (against Connacht) in 23 attempts and they have not won a league match against Munster since 2011, but Thomond Park is not the fortress it once was and should Munster slip up it would be the first time they'll have lost three games in a row at the venue since the dawn of professionalism.

Robin Copeland has been unable to shake off the knock that he picked up at the RSC last week, meaning Foley hands last season's academy player of the year Shane Buckley his debut at No 8, while UL Bohemians hooker Kevin O'Byrne also makes his competitive bow alongside John Ryan and BJ Botha in the front-row.

Australian centre Andrew Smith will be another making his first competitive appearance after joining from the Brumbies and despite all the talk of playmakers in the centre, he partners Johne Murphy in a sizeable midfield.

Simon Zebo adds some star quality on the wing and he back-three of the Lion, Andrew Conway and Ronan O'Mahony looks to have plenty of threat if the ball can get out to them, although any back-three containing Tim Visser must be respected.

After the wide-wide Canterbury-lite days of Rob Penney, the Thomond faithful can expect a more measured approach from their new coach.

"You could say pragmatic, we definitely have a way we want to play and areas we want to play in," he explained when asked about his team's style of play.

"We want to understand that most important thing is possession and then it becomes about what we do with the ball and an intelligent group of players who understand the game can be played in different ways. It's about being effective.

"Possession is everything in the game and we've been working on what we do when we have the ball, how we're going to do it, how we'll create space... I know it sounds vague but when you put in the athletes, the quality players, and you give them the scope to make decisions you come out with a good product.

"I want them to make decisions, I'll encourage that. When we review it we'll discuss what those decisions are, what they saw when they made it.

"But if I go out and tell them to this, this and this... it can't be from my point of view, it has to be from theirs. I retired in 2008, it's their game.

"It has to be gradual. Our job is to be better next month and to keep growing. We're not the finished product going into this game, what I want is that we'll be better coming out of it."

Munster want to move on, a win would start that process.

Verdict: Munster

MUNSTER - R O'Mahony; A Conway, J Murphy, A Smith, S Zebo; I Keatley, D Williams; J Ryan, K O'Byrne, BJ Botha; D O'Callaghan (capt), B Holland; CJ Stander, S Dougall, S Buckley. Reps: D Casey, A Cotter, S Archer, D Foley, T O'Donnell, C Sheridan, J Holland, I Dineen.

EDINBURGH - J Cuthbert; D Fife, S Beard, A Strauss, T Visser; G Tonks, S Kennedy; A Dickinson, R Ford (capt), J Andress; F McKenzie, O Atkins; T Leonardi, H Watson, C Du Preez. Reps: J Hilterbrand, R Sutherland, WP Nel, B Toolis, M Coman, S Hidalgo-Clyne, N McLennan, P Burleigh.

Ref - L Hodges (WRU)

Munster v Edinburgh,

Live, TG4, 7.35

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