Anthony Foley knows Munster must be clinical against Sale

Munster coach believes ‘you get what you deserve out of this competition’ as they prepare for trip to take on English Premiership side

Nobody knows better than Anthony Foley what European Cup rugby is about, be it in its Heineken guise or remodelled Champions Cup mode.

Whether as a player – he played in all but one of Munster’s first 78 Heineken Cup games and remains the tournament’s most prolific forward with 23 tries – or since then as an assistant coach, Foley has long been part of the European furniture.

He now makes his first foray as a head coach with evident relish, the only regret being that he’s not still playing.

Fate has dealt Foley and Munster a tough hand, as one of three semi-finalists from each of the last two Heineken Cups in Pool One; albeit they begin away to Sale Sharks this Saturday lunchtime.


With Saracens and Clermont to come, Munster have even less elbow room than ever before, but the cream generally rises to the top – and Foley doesn’t envisage that changing.

“I suppose I am one of the few who can say it, since I have been involved in this competition at the start: you get what you deserve out of this competition.

“You slip up one day and you will be turned over and you have got to be on your metal. You have to understand that on any given day because of the quality of the opposition.”

“I envy the players. I envy the fellas who are playing it for the first time because they don’t know what’s in front of them. It is a magnificent competition with a lot of expectation and a lot of kudos goes with it. It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, your game is all that matters.

“We are playing Sale at home. I have been there and gotten turned over, turned over badly. We have gone there and we have won but it does take a massive effort to win any game away from home.”

Friday night fright

Losing to Sale on this weekend in 2005 proved a precursor to Munster reaching their Holy Grail in May 2006 against Biarritz in the Cardiff final, even if memories of that Friday night in Stockport County’s Edgley Park remain grim.

Speaking in the Castletroy Park Hotel after training in the University of Limerick yesterday, Foley recalled Sale's big pack that night: how they scored off a breakaway try and a fumble by him at the base of a scrum, with Frankie Sheahan and Alan Quinlan departing with bad neck and cruciate ligament injuries.

“We came off a sorry lot after that game.” he said, “but we dusted ourselves and came out against Castres the following week and got a bonus point win.”

Consecutive wins over the Dragons followed, then Castres again before avenging Sale in the Thomond Park finale. Still, Foley and Munster are acutely conscious the bar has been raised this season.

He noted how every point may count even more with three runners-up progressing out of five pools, as opposed to two out of six.

“I think it’s fair to say a lot of teams are capable of beating each other in this group. I’m not predicting we’ll lose but I think the realist in me says that it will come down to what you do when you’re not on for the win, where can you get your own points.

“I think it will also come down to how clinical you are,” said Foley, given fewer opportunities, before adding that four-man teams of officials from the same country will make for an improvement on Pro12 standards, particularly with regard to the offside line, and more counter-attacking due to better policing of kick-chase.

Sale shipped a 43-10 defeat to high-flying Northampton last weekend, but Foley has little doubt that will make them even more unrecognisable for a European opener at home.

“Different competition, different mindset, different mentality,” he reasoned.

High hopes

Munster also arrive as one of Europe’s prized scalps, and with huge expectations internally within their organisation and from their supporters – “That’s part and parcel of being involved in Munster,” he said.

“There is an expectation within the playing group, within the coaching staff of what we should be achieving out of this. Obviously, externally we can’t control that, but there is a lot of external expectation on us too.”

Learning from initial losses away to Racing Metro and Edinburgh in the last two campaigns, Foley cited a 1pm kick- off in the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford and the need for players to become accustomed to eating breakfast at 7.30am all this week, as well as the technical preparation.

“What you want are fellas who are feeling powerful on the pitch and have a complete knowledge of what their task is.”

Munster have injury issues, with Tommy O'Donnell (shoulder), Duncan Casey (ribs) and Andrew Conway (neck) all adhering to modified training, as did 'oul man Paul O'Connell. "Paulie is always a concern every day" smiled Foley.

But all should be fit. “I think we’re in pretty good nick.”

This leads to a number of selection issues, at loosehead and tighthead, and maybe number eight, given that Peter O'Mahony (absolved of media duties due to an unfortunate earache) is sure to start alongside O'Donnell, with most probably Robin Copeland picked ahead of CJ Stander.

“He’s our captain and a fella that guys look up to,” Foley said. “He trained today fully. At some stage he is going to have to play a full 80. Whether it’s this weekend or the following weekend I don’t know.

“But he’s a guy that’s back on form and he’s coming back into the physical aspects of the game. I’m sure he’s a guy everybody wants to see on the pitch.”

Particularly the coach.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times