Antoine Frisch working through split family loyalty ahead of Munster-Leinster clash

French-born, Irish-qualified centre relishing prospect of taking on URC league leaders

Antoine Frisch of Munster is tackled by David Ribbans during the Heineken Cup Champions Cup match between Northampton Saints and Munster at cinch Franklin's Gardens Stadium on December 18th in Northampton, England. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

For Antoine Frisch, this Christmas will be different, in many ways. Munster’s new French-born, Irish qualified centre from Bristol will spend Christmas Day in Tallaght with his mother’s extended family, the Healys, several of whom will then be in Thomond Park to watch him play his first St Stephen’s Day derby against Leinster.

“I’ll be with them on Christmas Day and the day before, so there’s like 18 of us that will be in Tallaght and that will be very nice, and I’m sure a few of them will come down to the game, one hundred per cent.”

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Ah, but who will they be supporting?

“I’m pretty sure they’ll be supporting Munster,” he says guardedly with a smile. “I think they’re transitioning at the moment. Obviously they’re from Dublin and when I arrived there was a bit of craic with that but yeah, they’re supporting Munster now I reckon.”


Frisch has always had an affinity with Ireland and Irish rugby, and on foot of turning down the chance to remain with Pat Lam at Bristol in order to fulfil a long-held ambition to play in Ireland by signing a three-year deal with Munster, he has been brushing up on the province’s rich history. But he’s pretty well versed in what this derby means.

“Yeah, obviously it’s huge. Every year it’s massive and I just remember when I was younger, watching those games, the huge rivalry between the two. Munster were winning and Leinster sort of took the upper hand, so it will be a big game at home and obviously it’s just a huge classic in the rugby world.

“So, if I’m a part of it, it will be really special for me. I’ve always dreamt of playing in games like that. It’s why I came here.”

Frisch’s full Munster debut was delayed until that win over a South African A side due to the calf strain he sustained on the Emerging Ireland tour, and he’s played every minute of the last four matches, becoming an instant hit with the Munster fans.

“I didn’t really realise that. I guess the South Africa game was great because it was my first home game. It was brilliant. It’s really nice that people are making me feel so welcome, and it’s obviously very positive, and means I’m doing something right.”

He also enjoys the freedom with which the players are empowered.

“Absolutely, it’s the same for everyone, every single player has that licence to express themselves, within the system obviously but yeah, the coaches are big on that and the way they tell us it’s you’re at your best when you’re not thinking too much and you’re expressing yourself, and that’s when you’re at your best.

Most likely, Munster signed the 6′ 2″, 90kg centre ostensibly as a 12 but he has impressed at outside centre with his deft handling skills, awareness and, particularly last Sunday in Northampton, some of his reads in defence.

“I feel like I’ve been improving week-on-week, the same as the team.

“I feel much more comfortable in defence. I played 12 an awful lot in the past five years. I hadn’t played 13 that much in the past season. I’m really starting to feel comfortable in that position, and am really enjoying working hard with the boys just to improve in our game, and I think we’re really building momentum now, and it’s a really great environment to be in.”

From Fontainebleau, just outside of Paris, Frisch began playing with the Paris Université Club and Massy, before joining the Stade Francais academy. Originally an outhalf, he couldn’t break into the Stade team before deciding to move to Normandy with Rouen in Pro D2. It was there that Bristol spotted him and he admits he owes Pat Lam and Conor McPhillips a huge debt.

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“I’ve seen different styles and it has helped me to have a better understanding of what a team needs and just playing in the right areas of the field.

“For example at Bristol there was a big emphasis on holding the ball and putting teams under pressure through your shape and your attack, and I improved massively from that point of view last year.

“It definitely gives me a better knowledge of rugby and understanding what a team needs, I’m just using my ability to bring that to the team and it’s good, it’s definitely a plus in my game.”

His inclusion on the Emerging Ireland tour demonstrates that he was already on the radar of Andy Farrell and Mike Catt. Frisch makes no secret of his ambition to play for Ireland and is aware that these festive provincial derbies are also quasi trials.

“We know that we’re watched every week, every player, and you’re compared every week. I’m not shying away from the fact that I came here with ambitions to try and play for Ireland, so yeah, it’s huge.

“But you’ve got to focus on the team and the process and doing the job for the team.

“It’s really simple, just go out there and perform as best as you can, and I think if you do that then the rest takes care of itself. It’s in the back of your mind but you don’t think about it too much at the moment. Looking forward to it anyway.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times