Pressure mounting on Munster ahead of Edinburgh clash
Much scrutiny has been on the province this week as Anthony Foley saga rumbles on
Munster Head coach Anthony Foley at training ahead of their Pro12 tie against Edinburgh. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Munster players will put a brave, pragmatic face on it but this has been a shattering week for coach Anthony Foley. Normally the arrival of a proven coach from South Africa with top international experience would be cause for celebration but there was little to cheer over the past few days as Foley maintained his dignity in the face of an internal, bloodless coup.
Rugby’s sharper teeth were shown and as crowds fall off and Munster tread water mid-table, few will argue that there needed to be change. But the choreography, timing and downbeat demeanour of Foley indicated that a needless roasting of a respected Irish and Munster backrow had taken place.
The players can go into this game against Edinburgh knowing a regime change has already been put in place and some will now be playing for their own careers. That will sharpen focus as they wait for Johan ‘Rassie’ Erasmus, to appear sometime in July with a fresh pair of eyes.
That’s just one factor. The other is Munster’s immediate future. Currently in seventh spot in the Pro 12 table and one place behind Edinburgh, it means Foley has to wring more out of his troops than he has been able to do all season if Champions Cup qualification is to be achieved.
Maybe Munster believed the announcement this week would galvanise the team and Foley has made five changes to the side that fell to Connacht 35-14 a couple of weeks ago, four of those in the pack.
Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Dave Foley and Dave O’Callaghan all return with right wing, Andrew Conway joining Simon Zebo and Keith Earls in the back three.
Edinburgh stick with the pack that earned them a losing bonus point against Leinster last time out in the RDS but make three changes in the back line. A change at centre sees Matt Scott return to the outside with Andries Strauss at inside, following injury to Phil Burleigh last time out.
On-loan Jason Tovey remains at outhalf with Sean Kennedy moving from the bench to start at scrumhalf.
Leinster fans will remember Fergus McFadden’s flying collision with Damien Hoyland towards the end of the match, which earned the Leinster player a suspension. The flying Hoyland is back in the Edinburgh starting team no worse for the hit.
Edinburgh currently sit in sixth place and must retain that position to achieve their aim of moving into the European Champions Cup mix for 2016-17.
Last season Edinburgh beat Munster in the opening away fixture, at Thomond Park, however the home side were edged out at Murrayfield, 14-16 the last time the teams met in November.
A performance like that against Connacht will not be enough and Foley will demand better handling skills, ball retention and smarter option-taking as part of the improvement package required.
But the fallout from a week in which the team were told that Foley was not good enough to continue as head coach could be their biggest hurdle.