Munster v Connacht: Anthony Foley to be remembered

Memories will be invoked tonight, and not just inside the Limerick citadel . . .

The fifth anniversary of Anthony Foley’s shock passing coincides with Munster game against Connacht at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The fifth anniversary of Anthony Foley’s shock passing coincides with Munster game against Connacht at Thomond Park on Saturday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

United Rugby Championship: Munster v Connacht

Kick-off: 7.35pm, Saturday. Venue: Thomond Park. On TV: Live on RTE 2 and Premier Sports 2.

This should be emotional, and feisty too.

With an uncanny sense of timing, the fifth anniversary of Anthony Foley’s shock passing coincides with a Munster game at Thomond Park and their biggest attendance since pre-pandemic days for the first interpro of the season as well.

One of the great figureheads of Munster rugby, in that distinctive running style and headgear synonymous with the red number ‘8’ jersey and then as head coach, Foley’s memory will be commemorated in the presence of his extended family and friends from his alma mater, St Munchin’s, his club Shannon, his parish of Killaloe, former teammates and those coached by him, and, of course, the red army.

It could hardly be more fitting.

“Absolutely,” agreed Jean Kleyn. “It’s not something you celebrate but it’s something you remember and it’s a perfect night to remember him.

“I only knew him for a short while but there were guys here like CJ and Pete and Keith (Earls) - Keith even played with him - that spoke so highly of him and still speak so highly of him and I think that’s testimony that five years after his passing he’s still being spoken of, he’s still being mentioned.

“He’s not a memory. To a lot of people he’s still very much real and remembering him with a match back at Thomond Park after we’ve all had this sense of separation from each other and reality over the last 18 months/two years. I think it’s really fitting that we can remember him as well on this occasion.”

Memories will be invoked tonight, and not just inside the Limerick citadel.

Leo Cullen recalls being in UCD, where the Leinster squad were undergoing medicals after their game the day before and preparing to watch the Racing-Munster game when the news broke.

“I remember it flashing up on the screen, seeing some of the bulletins come in, that sort of sense of disbelief. I read this week about it being the fifth anniversary. It’s hard to believe, really.”

Pausing for a moment, Cullen added: “You’ve got me pretty emotional here now, cos I wasn’t expecting this one. He was the number ‘8’ for the Irish Schools in ‘92 whereas I was the number ‘8’ for the Irish Schools in ‘96. They had gone to New Zealand on their tour and we went to Australia four years later.

“Yeah, lots of similar things that we did in terms of careers. He passed away at 42 and I’m currently 43 so I thought a lot about Axel when I was 42, to understand all the pressures and the rest of it that he came under. He’s in my thoughts a lot, Axel. I’m sure it will be a sad day for his family.

“I’m sure every day is but he was also an amazing character so hopefully everyone celebrates all the good things about Axel as well and what he did for the game and for the country as well, and especially Munster.

“He definitely had an effect on a lot of us but, yeah, somebody I would have watched. I admired him, seeing him play his first cap for Ireland and all the rest.”

Munster are fairly loaded for this one too, with only last week’s man of the match in the handsome win away to the Scarlets, Chris Cloete, retained. Peter O’Mahony captains Munster on his 150th appearance for the province with Gavin Coombes also restored at ‘8’ and Tadhg Beirne makes his seasonal re-appearance, while Bundee Aki is one of five changes for a Connacht side smarting from their defeat at home by the Dragons.

Munster haven’t forgotten Connacht’s win here in May, a fourth clash since the Covid hiatus, and an edgy relationship between the rival coaches was compounded by the James Cronin imbroglio, when Munster released him and then effectively sought to block Connacht signing him before he joined Biarritz.

So it could be full on too.

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Rory Scannell, Simon Zebo; Joey Carbery, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Chris Cloete, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Jeremy Loughman, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Donoghue, Neil Cronin, Jake Flannery, Dan Goggin.

CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Sammy Arnold, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen; Jack Carty (capt), Caolin Blade; Matthew Burke, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Niall Murray, Ultan Dillane; Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Paul Boyle. Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Greg McGrath, Jack Aungier, Eoghan Masterson, Abraham Papali’i, Kieran Marmion, Jarrad Butler, Tom Daly.

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU, 12th league game)

Betting: 1/10 Munster, 33/1 Draw, 13/2 Connacht. Handicap odds (Connacht +16pts) 10/11 Munster, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Connacht.

Forecast: Munster to win.

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