Wednesday 21 August 2019

We'll look each other square in the eye - Foley

Munster coach uncomfortable discussing Henshaw ahead of key clash

Anthony Foley
Anthony Foley
David Kelly

David Kelly

Perhaps now Irish rugby is finally beginning to reassess its relationship with the oft-derided, much-neglected and once almost extinct fourth green field.

Publicly, the perception of Connacht has rarely changed throughout the professional era; polite condescension has usually snugly fitted an agenda rendering Connacht as perennially plucky underdogs, a gnarled annoyance akin to a pebble in the big boots of their richer Irish cousins.

Anthony Foley knows enough about squally days in Athlone and Galway, when the sides he once led emerged with Munster Senior Cup-winning scorelines - a 6-3 and a 3-0 stand out in his mind - and even more about their recent manifestation as a well-honed, truly competitive outfit to engage any lazy assumptions.


"We don't look up at them, we don't look down on them," Munster's head coach says with admirable dispassion. "We will look each other square in the eye and just go at it."

Uniquely, they will do so within a context of momentary inferiority.

Although Connacht's historical poverty could well be viewed through the prism of this particular fixture - one win in 43 competitive attempts, in 1986, a decade before the sport went pro - it is the present that demands a more active impression of respect than at any time in their history.

Connacht top the Pro12 standings on merit; for once, it is they who could conceivably look down upon their southern neighbours and, while Leinster's coaching staff over a decade ensured that their derby has assumed a growing ferocity, the clash of these two neighbours has traditionally always been the most virulent.

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The steady flow of players between the provinces - predominantly predicated upon Munster's needs and the status, detested within western borders, of Connacht as a "development" province - has fuelled much of the ire.

So naturally Foley was less than enthusiastic when invited to add his tuppence worth to the ongoing navel-gazing that has ensued with Robbie Henshaw's latest public pronouncements upon his future which, in effect, have reduced his options to just three teams.

Foley admitted he couldn't say no to Henshaw in a red shirt; it was just that he would have rather said nothing at all.

"I would imagine there would be a lot of clubs that would love a player of his capabilities in their squad," he said . "We wouldn't be saying no.

"It is probably not appropriate to talk about a player that we are probably going to face at the weekend in the media on a Tuesday. So I will leave it there."

Having been predictably "unleft" there by his zealous interrogators, he forcibly dissembled some more.

"The player is an international player, so he has got to make his own decisions. We are probably going to be playing against him at the weekend as I said. I don't really want to talk about one of Pat Lam's players ahead of a game between the two teams."

Foley's disdain in such matters has already been stung by the initiation, then confirmation, of Paul O'Connell's departure and the speculation that continually swirls around his dwindling tranche of truly world-class performers.

Apparently, he had recently sought to swell that number by recruiting Australian captain Stephen Moore, who has long held an ambition to pursue his club career in the land where his parents were born.

Inquired as to if the IRFU's David Nucifora supposedly shot down the deal, Foley good-humouredly shoots the messenger instead.


"The Australian hooker . . ." he muses. "Somebody said that to me. There isn't anything in that. It has happened us in the past around the media as well, where names are thrown out. Everything is done behind closed doors. We are not going to talk about it in the public anyway because it is not worth our while."

Munster may need to fill this hole nevertheless as they await news on the luckless Mike Sherry's latest travails; he will not be able to return to modified training until next week after his latest examination by the gifted Ray Moran in the Santry Clinic.

"We are light enough at the moment," admits Foley. "Obviously we have Niall Scannell. Kevin O'Byrne played the B&I Cup game and got through that. We had Eddie Rossiter down from Old Belvedere who used to play with UL Bohs, covering off the sub spot in the B&I Cup game.

"Mike hasn't trained but has done a bit of modified running, and we just want to see where he is at by the end of the week. Whether he is two, three weeks, four weeks we don't know. It is all by feel."

Conor Murray's bruised foot, trodden on during the Treviso game ten days ago, ruled him out of training at a damp University of Limerick yesterday and, given looming back-to-back Champions Cup assignments with Leicester, he will probably remain rested for this Saturday's clash.

Peter O'Mahony and Duncan Casey both underwent successful operations last Friday on their respective ailments with Foley tentatively suggesting that both could return just in time for a prospective twin tilt at play-offs in both domestic and European fare.

Tyler Bleyendaal (quad) is expected to return to modified training early next week while Jordan Coghlan emerged as the only injury concern following Munster 'A's British & Irish Cup win over Yorkshire Carnegie on Friday night.

The back-rower underwent a scan for an ankle injury and will be further assessed this week.

With Peter McCabe (pectoral muscle), Tommy O'Donnell (hip), Stephen Archer (neck) and Johnny Holland (hamstring) all continuing their respective rehab programmes from long-term injuries, it is fair to say Munster are getting a tad too stretched for comfort in some areas.

While O'Donnell, in cheery form as per usual, did essay his first baby steps on the road to recovery following his agonising autumn setback, it was notable to observe two trialists in action too, youthful Australian duo Rory O'Connor, a prop from the Waratahs' Academy, and scrum-half Mike Kennedy. Both are Irish-qualified.

At least Munster will be fresh for this weekend following last weekend's postponement of their round two Champions Cup clash - Foley is not directly involved in the negotiations for the re-scheduling but he is adamant on two distinct issues.

Firstly, it cannot be a midweek game. Secondly, it must take place before the scheduled round six conclusion, wherein Munster supporters have traditionally sweated the small stuff until the dying seconds to witness their heroes indulge in elaborate escapology.

"Everybody loves round six because of the permutations," agrees Foley. "It's one of the traditions of the competition and it would be slightly unfair on other teams, on supporters and people around the game. It's one of the unique features of the competition."

Which brings us back to tradition and the expectation that Connacht, as they did in a thumping pre-season win here, will be bulling to alter history and perception with one decisive blow.

"They're doing an excellent job and they're rightly top of the table. If you go to the Liberty Stadium and win, you deserve everything you get. They're a good rival and it's going to be a very good contest."

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