MICK O’DRISCOLL KNOWS all about French teams and their frenzied defence of home records. The former Munster lock spent two years in the Top 14 with Perpignan and, during that stint, saw off the likes of Clermont and Toulon at Stade Aimé Giral.
The Cork native returned to Munster in 2005 and hung up his rugby boots in 2013. He opened a franchise of Home Instead [an organisation that assists elderly people who want to remain in their houses] and kept in touch with the sport by coaching at Presentation College, then Cork Con.
O’Driscoll told TheScore.ie he thought his involvement with professional rugby was over before, in March, Munster approached him a technical advisory and coaching role. “I didn’t think I would go down that route but found myself enjoying the coaching and when Axel [Anthony Foley] rang, I couldn’t turn him down.”
O’Driscoll calls Foley’s appointment as Munster head coach, from the beginning of next season, a “no-brainer”. The former back row has been through the required coaching apprenticeship and, O’Driscoll adds, Foley’s lack of head coach experience will not matter a jot if Munster get off to a winning start next season. “Rob Penney and Simon Mannix have done a good job and will be missed, to an extent, but a new group is coming in with new ideas. It is an exciting time to be involved.”
O’Driscoll will watch this afternoon’s game from home and believes a Munster win could be the starting point of a new era when the Irish province are competing, on an annual basis, for the top prize. Many people have compared the enormity of Munster’s task — beating the reigning Heineken Cup champions, Toulon, at Stade Velodrome — with the emphatic semi-final win over a mighty Toulouse team in 2000. He said:
It is tough to compare to two teams as rugby has completely changed in the past decade. The two teams are different too. The side that beat Toulouse was older and more experienced but the current side are making their own history. Beating Toulon could be the making of this team. It is going to be very tough but if any team can do it, this Munster team can.”
At 25, Dave Foley is one of Munster’s younger generation that will be desperate to make a telling contribution on the European stage. Before this season, Foley had played 17 games over three seasons. This afternoon he will play in the second row for the 17th time this season. “Foley is a young, enthusiastic player who will not shy away from anything. He is well aware of who he is up against but, in my eyes, he is up to the task and is a player who can go all the way.”
O’Driscoll added, “Back at the turn of the century we were not fancied to beat Toulouse but we took the fight to them. This Toulon team can easily boast to being better than that Toulouse side. They are a team of stars but Munster have a better team unit.
“Munster, from my time there and from what I know of this season’s team, are level-headed and approach a game the same whether they are fancied or underdogs. In my eyes, it is a good thing that people are giving Munster no chance. I see some bookies are putting Toulon at 3/1 on to win. They seem like ridiculous odds, especially when you are dealing with a team like Munster.”
*Munster take on Toulon from 3:40pm on Sunday and TheScore.ie will be bringing you all the action from France from 3pm.