Late Foley the spur in Munster's European run

Thu, 30 Mar 2017 07:24
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: As the broken-hearted Munster players mourned coach Anthony Foley following his sudden death in October, it seemed inconceivable that an underperforming squad would be involved in the European knockouts.

The shock over Foley, 42, who previously played for the Irish province, seemed destined to become a tragic epitaph to what would be another campaign to forget for the former two-time European champions, whose glory days appeared to be behind them.

Instead, just a day after his funeral, Munster not only trounced Glasgow 38-14 at an emotionally charged Thomond Park despite playing for more than an hour down to 14 men, but used the win as a platform to embark on a drive to the quarterfinals of the European Champions Cup.

Former Ireland flyhalf Tony Ward, who inspired Munster to a celebrated 12-0 triumph over New Zealand in 1978, attributes the turnaround in fortunes to the "galvanising effect" of the beloved Foley's passing.

"I was sitting beside the Munster players in the church that day of his funeral and wondering to myself, 'How in the hell are these guys going to play a match tomorrow?' but they not only did so, but it has been a driving force," Ward told AFP.  

Former players, including Ward, have also noted the return of the "fear factor" at Thomond Park, Munster's home ground in the southern city of Limerick.

Crowd numbers had been dwindling for years but the ground was packed for the Glasgow game and has been sold-out since, with another capacity crowd expected for Saturday's quarterfinal against French giants Toulouse.

Reflecting on the transformation, the Munster scrum coach and former Test hooker Jerry Flannery told Ireland's Newstalk Radio of his "embarrassment" at the province's poor form prior to Foley's death.

"I can't stress enough how proud I was after the Glasgow game, when the former players, the guys who I'd been almost ashamed to look in the eye from the previous season, when I saw how proud they were of the current players," he said.

However, Mark Meehan, a spokesman for the Munster Rugby Supporters Club, played down Foley's passing as the main reason for their run to the last eight of Europe's premier club Rugby Union competition because "emotion can only bring you so far".

"If you look at the stats from last year they show we were very, very close but just couldn't finish the job when we got into the [opposition] 22 and that ended up costing us games we should have won," he told AFP.

"Saying that, I believe it drove home the fact that there are a lot worse things than losing a rugby game and that has brought a sense of freedom to their play.”

Ward believes Munster will win at home this weekend, but their ability to progress further could depend on whether reigning champions Saracens fulfil expectations to beat Glasgow on Sunday.

A clash against the London club would open up a favourable semifinal draw for Munster at Dublin's Lansdowne Road next month.

"Toulouse will be at one hell of a psychological disadvantage this weekend," said Ward. 

"The stadium will rock, there will be a sea of red [Munster's colour] and that bond between the team and the supporters is now stronger than ever since the death of Anthony Foley – it had a galvanising effect that changed everything."

Agence France-Presse

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Fri, 15 December 2017
Ulster v Harlequins 19h45 Kingspan Stadium
Sat, 16 December 2017
Treviso v Scarlets 13h00 Stadio Comunale di Monigo
Montpellier v Glasgow Warriors 13h00 Altrad Stadium
Leinster v Exeter Chiefs 15h15 Aviva Stadium
Racing Metro v Castres 15h15 Stade Yves-du-Manoir
Bath v Toulon 17h30 Recreation Ground
Sun, 17 December 2017
Wasps v La Rochelle 13h00 Ricoh Arena
Clermont Auvergne v Saracens 15h15 Stade Marcel-Michelin
Ospreys v Northampton Saints 15h15 Liberty Stadium
Leicester Tigers v Munster 17h30 Welford Road
Fri, 22 December 2017
Wasps v Gloucester 22h00 Ricoh Arena
Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins 22h00 Kingston Park
Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs 22h00 Franklin's Gardens
Leicester Tigers v Saracens 22h00 Welford Road
Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers 22h00 Sixways
Sale Sharks v Bath 22h00 AJ Bell Stadium
RESULT SCORE
Mon, 11 December 2017
Saracens v Clermont Auvergne 14 | 46
Sun, 10 December 2017
Exeter Chiefs v Leinster 8 | 18
Harlequins v Ulster 5 | 17
La Rochelle v Wasps 49 | 29
Sat, 09 December 2017
Munster v Leicester Tigers 33 | 10
Castres v Racing Metro 16 | 13
Northampton Saints v Ospreys 32 | 43
Toulon v Bath 24 | 20
Scarlets v Treviso 33 | 28
Fri, 08 December 2017
Glasgow Warriors v Montpellier 22 | 29
Sun, 03 December 2017
Harlequins v Saracens 20 | 19
Sat, 02 December 2017
Cheetahs v Scarlets 28 | 21
Munster v Ospreys 36 | 10
Wasps v Leicester Tigers 32 | 25
Treviso v Leinster 10 | 36
EUROPEAN CUP
MORE LOGS
Pool 1
Team P W D L Pts
La Rochelle 3 3 0 0 15
Ulster 3 1 0 2 8
Wasps 3 1 0 2 6
Harlequins 3 0 0 3 1
Pool 2
Team P W D L Pts
Clermont Auvergne 3 3 0 0 14
Saracens 3 2 0 1 10
Ospreys 3 1 0 2 8
Northampton Saints 3 0 0 3 1
Pool 3
Team P W D L Pts
Leinster 3 3 0 0 14
Exeter Chiefs 3 2 0 1 8
Montpellier 3 1 0 2 8
Glasgow Warriors 3 0 0 3 1
Pool 4
Team P W D L Pts
Munster 3 2 1 0 11
Castres 3 1 1 1 7
Leicester Tigers 3 1 0 2 6
Racing Metro 3 1 0 2 6
Pool 5
Team P W D L Pts
Toulon 3 3 0 0 12
Bath 3 2 0 1 9
Scarlets 3 1 0 2 7
Treviso 3 0 0 3 3