Monday 18 December 2017

Foley aims to spring a surprise in Paris

David Kelly

David Kelly

PARIS in the spring. A biennial cycle of despair for Irish rugby teams, broken just twice in 60 years.

Timely in many respects, then, that a survivor from the most recent uprising should pitch up with the Irish camp as they seek to somehow, as Rob Kearney says pleadingly, "change the record".

Anthony Foley was part of that famous team that fearlessly plundered Paris all of 12 years ago; his sudden elevation to the Ireland coaching panel means he joins Ronan O'Gara on the dwindling list of survivors from that memorable day.

Brian O'Driscoll, the day's seminal hat-trick scorer, is, of course, sidelined as he recovers from surgery on a shoulder injury.

While the captain's absence remains palpable, forward coach Gert Smal's withdrawal for medical reasons last week threatened to enervate still further a squad whose confidence remains a fitful beast.

Foley's swift ascension temporarily calms those fears; his watchful eye at training and occasional quiet counsel in Ireland's Carton House base yesterday befitted someone who can impressively augment Smal's readymade template.

With grumblings about back-row intensity still dominating most discussion, despite last Saturday's facile victory against limited Italians, Foley admits he will harbour little reservation about reminding his new charges of their responsibilities.


"Yes, definitely," he readily responds when asked if he was ready to put his oar in. This may be a temporary little arrangement, but Foley is determined not to bite his tongue.

"I was involved today. You do have to respect that the team has come from a World Cup, Christmas camps, pre-championship camps and then prepared for two games, so there's a lot of work already been done there.

"It's my role to fill in with the boys and make sure that I row in with them as well.

"If I see something that I think can be done a bit differently, little subtleties, I'm not afraid to say.

"But in terms of the volume of work that this side, this forward pack, has done over this season so far, you just really get in behind it and if I can add some influence, I will."

The freezing farce that has irrevocably altered the tenor of this championship means that both Sunday's combatants still seem to be grappling to get a handle on their best form.

France were as patchy as Ireland, a typical away performance against Scotland that saw them struggle with fringe defence and line-out competence for much of the piece.

Foley smiles when tossed the bait of purported French fallibility.

"It's one of those areas," he cautions. "When a team isn't cohesive, that comes from not playing together.

"Now they have played together and things will tighten up. We are going to their back garden and things tighten up a lot in your own back garden!

"So there are areas we will be looking to go after them but they mightn't necessarily always be obvious."

From his new vantage point, Foley also sees reason to be encouraged, despite the fact Ireland's opening throes in both championship games thus far have not exactly rained intensity.

"I think, for this campaign, it's been stop-start for the boys," he says, pointing again to the altered schedule. "Every time you go into your first Six Nations game you always talk about momentum and that called off game has taken the momentum away.

"We had to come back and get ready for Italy. The boys did well, the second-half was excellent and now you look to build that momentum onto it.

"I'm sure we'll be sharper in those areas and I think that will happen as a flow of playing games."

Foley recalled his own Paris spring yesterday, a stunning success that at once inspired a golden generation in green and inculcated a winning culture on French soil among the Irish provinces.

What stood out from that occasion was the fearless- ness of that success under Warren Gatland, where the exuberance of youth mixed freely with an exper- ienced core desperately seeking one final release from Parisian pain.

"There were a few younger lads there," recalls Foley, "a few guys who didn't care, and a few older guys who knew their time and opportunities of playing over in France were getting shorter.

"When you're an international rugby player you want to achieve and win away from home and win trophies. In order to do that, you need to have big performances in you.

"I remember the feeling after the game. I remember the elation around the squad, the feeling of a job well done, the feeling of achievement.

"You get hit with it every time you go over there about the record in Paris and it was nice to be in a side that actually won there. It is something that stays with you, but you have to move on and try and do it again."

Kearney had barely entered his teens when he watched the win on his couch with his dad. "It's kind of sad that that's the last time we got a win away there," he admits. "We need to break that cycle."

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