Earls out but Foley expects Munster to raise game

‘We have a process of how we want to play the game and we need to execute that’

Ticket sales may not be in keeping with recent seasons. Munster, especially, are in far from confident or fluent form, and their casualty list has been compounded by another long-term injury for Keith Earls.

However, after a run of just one win in five at their one-time Thomond Park fortress (and that against Zebre) Anthony Foley's side will relish their underdogs' status for Friday's rendezvous with Leinster at the Aviva.

“A lot of fellas are playing their friends, they are playing their team-mates,” said Foley after the squad trained in University of Limerick yesterday, before warming to this theme in a manner which suggests he would love to still be playing.

“It is a local derby first and foremost, an inter-pro in itself, you would have seen it between Leinster and Connacht, it is a feisty affair and I’d expect the same to be in the Aviva on Saturday.”


Whereupon he pulled in the reins by warning: “We need to concentrate on playing the game. I don’t think beating our chest and roaring and shouting will do us any favours at the weekend. We have a process of how we want to play the game and we need to execute that with a degree of accuracy, put pressure on Leinster and they will be trying to do the exact same to us and whoever can win those physical battles at the crucial moments will probably come out the winners.”

Fully conscious

Although the Thomond defeats hurt, representing their province against their biggest rivals offers the chance for redemption.

“We are fully conscious when the jersey goes on we have a lot of people we represent,” said Foley. “That’s not lost on us and we have to make sure we go out and do justice to the jersey and the way the boys turned up today and yesterday you know there is good feeling here at the moment even after the hard-to-take loss (against the Ospreys) at the weekend.”

Munster have lost on their last seven treks to Dublin to face Leinster, including four in a row at the Aviva, ever since that historically pivotal Heineken Cup semi-final loss at Croke Park in 2009.

“We have never come off the pitch complaining about anything. They produce an unbelievable atmosphere in the Aviva Stadium, they do sell it out well, it will be a hostile environment for us, we do appreciate that but that also gets your dander up for the game as well so it is important that we try and use that to our benefit as well.”

“Our recent results up there have been disappointing, but we want to put out a performance that is worthy of winning a game against very good opposition. If we do that we have a chance but if we keep looking back on what happened before it just weighs you down. If we keep trying to impose ourselves on them, let’s see where that takes us.”

Foley must be feeling the pressure like never before since entering this coaching lark six seasons ago, although he is not showing it, and this despite Earls, one of his most prized attacking assets, undergoing knee surgery in London yesterday afternoon after aggravating a patellar tendon which he suffered in a pre-season Irish camp.

The knife

Earls has not been available to Joe Schmidt once, and will now be sidelined for an estimated "three to four months". Foley said the decision to go under the knife will hopefully grant Earls an injury-free run.

“I think he deserves that, Irish rugby supporters deserve to go into a ground and see Keith Earls play because he is genuinely a very exciting player and open-field runner.”

Donnacha Ryan will undergo toe surgery tomorrow as they join longer-term casualties Mike Sherry, Dave O'Callaghan and Niall Scanlon on the sidelines, while Paddy Butler is very doubtful as he observes the return to play protocols after suffering concussion against the Ospreys.

Against that, Peter O'Mahony (double shoulder surgery) and Damien Varley (foot) both resumed training yesterday after long-term absences and at a push could be involved against Leinster.

As to Munster’s form and results to date, Foley believes they have been playing too much rugby in the wrong areas of the pitch. This was the mantra from head coach and players alike yesterday.

Citing how well, by contrast, the Ospreys' halves Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar played territory, Foley noted how Munster had 59 per cent of possession last Saturday night, but "from our 22 to 10-metre line we were 28 per cent effective. In the same area of the pitch, Ospreys were 88 per cent effective.

“So what their half-backs did and ‘15’ did and other players did for them was put them in a better position.

“ Every team wants to play more in the opposition half. We don’t want to be stuck in our own half because as the old cliché is, you don’t win the game in your own half . . .”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times