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'There needs to be an emphasis on getting people back into Thomond Park' -- Anthony Foley

The Munster head coach believes that eradicating home losses will make a massive difference to his side.

ANTHONY FOLEY’S REACTION to having a new superior landed into the Munster coaching setup has been one of an exemplary professional.

You’d hardly of expecting anything less of a man with Munster in his veins.

Anthony Foley Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The imminent start of a new season, complete with clean slates and promises of hope and bright beginnings meant it was hardly the time to tell the outside world how tough last season was on the Limerick man. We can only imagine.

Head coach was Foley’s dream job when he took over from Rob Penney two years ago, but last season seemed to keep unraveling before his eyes. It culminating in the haphazard day in front of the media when he manfully fielded questions as a new director of rugby was being hoisted in.

Foley though, has clearly stared at the final Pro12 table long enough to see one section of games that could have changed the perception of the campaign completely. Asked what he could learn from last season and what he wanted from the season ahead, his answer was the same.

Not losing any games at home.”

Taken in isolation, Munster’s four losses on home soil last season isn’t a bad number to post. It’s more about the identity of those who sacked fortress Thomond. Connacht were the first, way back in November and that result seemed to send Munster into a spiral from which they never really recovered. In the following four weeks they lost away to the Dragons, home and away to Leicester in the Champions Cup and then at home to Leinster two days after Christmas.

Foley didn’t have to explain his reasons for targetting a flawless record at Thomond Park. Reversing the outcome of the three consecutive home league defeats (albeit across two and a half months) to Connacht, Leinster and Ospreys would, in theory, have left them 10 points better off and top of the final Pro12 standings.

The six away league defeats wasn’t much to write home about either, but Foley is targeting strong and familiar fundamental pillars for Munster to build on. On the field, as well as on the league and Champions Cup tables.

Anthony Foley Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Though Rassie Erasmus is the new boss among Munster coaches, Foley remains head coach. He will prepare the team week-to-week with a special focus on the line-out and ruck. Rather than feel chastened by the diminished responsibility on his shoulders, the former number eight sounds eager to get more time to actually be a coach.

“It sounds stupid, but it’s to get your best players on the pitch and win your home games.

“It’s a lot easier said than done.

“We’ve obviously spent a lot of money and time recruiting players and not enough time on the pitch. That’s being brutally honest (last season).

“So we get them back on the pitch, get our best players on the pitch, then I think we have a chance. We can’t or won’t have the biggest squad. We’re then reliant on bringing players through our academy and I think we’ve done that quite well.

He adds: “We need to cut down our errors on the pitch.

We always start on possession. Make sure your scrum, line-out and high-ball receipt are good. You maintain your possession and then what you do with that possession and where you play with it is how you’re tactically set up to face an opponent on a given day.”

On Wednesday, Erasmus was at pains to point out how he and new defence coach Jacques Nienaber ‘aligned their philosophy’ with the existing Munster contingent in the backroom. The alignment involved trade-offs from both sides though, and  ’the old Munster way’ won’t be set aside lightly.

“The old principles are strong principles,” says Foley.

“As I said, you’ve got to mind your ball, you have to get it first and then look after it, put quality on it and then deliver it.

“We will start there and work out how we will go forward and how we will recycle. If we can make sure we get our set-piece right and use that ball properly, we will be a hard team to beat.”

“There’s definitely changes (to the gameplan). There’s definitely tweaks, but they’re tweaks that make sense. From our point of view, it’s around winning rugby matches.

“I’m fully aware that you can play whatever type of rugby you want, but if you’re not playing a brand that’s going to win you games and win your supporters back, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Winning supporters back, winning home games: It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Foley cites one 12-month period when he played in front of 300 spectators in Dooradoyle and a 30,000-strong red army invading Twickenham in 2000 as evidence that the demand for seats in Thomond can return. It just needs a little belief.

“It can happen over a short period of time, but there needs to be a positivity, needs to be a connected view around supporting Munster”, says Foley.

“If it’s not the team you support, it’s the club you should support. The team on the pitch will ebb and flow, because that’s the nature of sport. There’s no team ever who has been successful decade-on-decade.

“The club is the history, the thing you should follow and that should be the passion you have.”

He adds: “I suppose there needs to be an emphasis and a focus on getting people back into Thomond Park.

“We need to fill it and make it as an intimidating venue as it can be and making sure that those 50-50, 60-40 decisions go our way.”

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Sean Farrell

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