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Foley needs Munster to wrestle back control of European destiny

The southern province welcome Edinburgh to Cork tonight in the Pro12.

Munster v Edinburgh, Guinness Pro12

Musgrave Park, 7.35pm [TG4]

SO IT IS that Anthony Foley’s reign as the top man in Munster comes down to the final two games.

The former number eight, a true legend from his playing days, has two matches to ensure that he is not remembered as the head coach who oversaw Munster’s slip out of the Champions Cup.

Anthony Foley Foley needs a big performance from his Munster side. Source: Lorraine.O'Sullivan

One can only imagine the pressure Foley is feeling as the southern province prepares for this evening’s decisive Guinness Pro12 clash with Edinburgh. The 42-year-old cares about Munster more passionately than most.

Unfortunately for Foley, his devotion to the province has not been rewarded with results this season. Instead, Munster find themselves on the brink of failure.

The players must be feeling the pressure of this evening’s contest in Musgrave Park too, and Foley stresses that he has needed to maintain as positive a demeanour as possible in their presence this weekend.

It’s easy to be negative at the moment,” says Foley. “I think it’s important for us as coaches to be positive because everything else they’ve been hearing is negative.

“We just need to keep a balanced view on it. They’re not the worst people in the world, and when things are going well they don’t know it all either.

“It’s about getting the middle ground with everything you do and accepting that, making sure we can drive on. We’ve a good group of players who are willing and care about Munster rugby, who want to give their best and it’s about us trying to get that out of them.”

Munster’s support base will surely answer the calls to lend their vocal strength to the mix this evening in Cork, with Foley pointing out the emotional value a big crowd can have.

Ian Keatley and Simon Zebo Simon Zebo and Ian Keatley at training this week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Noise is of massive value. Players see people that care in the stands and the terraces and it just gives everyone a lift.”

Whatever about that support, it’s up to Munster to cut out the consistent errors from their game and muscle up to an Edinburgh side that will fancy their chances of gaining a foothold up front.

The Scotland front row starts for Alan Solomons’ side, while the absence of Donnacha Ryan due to concussion may be felt heavily by Munster in the second row. Foley was pleased with his side’s mauling efforts “at times” against Leinster and Connacht in recent weeks, but the scrum was a huge weakness in the defeat to the western province.

Dave Kilcoyne has been brought in at loosehead prop in place of James Cronin as Foley attempts to remedy that issue, while Niall Scannell gets the nod at hooker ahead of Ireland-capped Mike Sherry.

Again, Munster are reliant on the relatively inexperienced Johnny Holland to steer the ship from the 10 shirt, but Foley has faith that the 24-year-old looks increasingly confident at this level.

“I think Johnny has done really well since he has come in,” says Foley. “He controls the game, he kicks the three points, so he is getting more confident as he goes through it. He is picking up the bangs and knocks as you would as a Munster 10, but he is growing.”

Solomons has strengthened the Edinburgh backline by bringing in Scotland centre Matt Scott after his recovery from injury, though Phil Burleigh drops out injured. Dougie Fife, back on the bench after a recent stint on international sevens duty, could cause Munster harm in the second half too.

Matt Scott scores a try Matt Scott makes his Edinburgh return. Source: Russell Cheyne/INPHO

Munster beat Edinburgh away earlier this season and Foley has been attempting to stress elements of their play in recent weeks that his players have been getting right.

The Munster head coach has seen signs of what he believes his side are capable of. Foley felt the linespeed against Connacht was at an aggressive peak, but feels his players must “just finish it off at times.”

The try scored by Simon Zebo, created by Holland and Jack O’Donoghue, enthused him too, particularly the preceding carries and clearouts that helped to produce the opportunity.

Foley feels that if Munster can take their “moments” of opportunity, as for the missed overlap late on against Leinster, they can bring their Champions Cup destiny back into their control this evening.

“We’ve got to take things that are outside our control back into our control. I think you’re more comfortable when you’re in that situation rather than relying on other results, particularly when you’re getting to this stage of the situation.

“Unfortunately at this stage, we’re not in control of our destiny; we need to get that back within our control if possible. That will take a massive performance against Edinburgh.”

Munster:

15. Simon Zebo
14. Andrew Conway
13. Francis Saili
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. Johnny Holland
9. Conor Murray

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. Stephen Archer
4. Dave Foley
5. Billy Holland
6. Dave O’Callaghan
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. CJ Stander (captain)

Replacements:

16. Mike Sherry
17. James Cronin
18. John Ryan
19. Robin Copeland
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Duncan Williams
22. Ian Keatley
23. Ronan O’Mahony

Edinburgh:

15. Blair Kinghorn
14. Damien Hoyland
13. Matt Scott
12. Andries Strauss
11. Tom Brown
10. Jason Tovey
9. Sean Kennedy

1. Alasdair Dickinson
2. Ross Ford (captain)
3. WP Nel
4. Anton Bresler
5. Ben Toolis
6. Jamie Ritchie
7. John Hardie
8. Cornell Du Preez

Replacements:

16. Stuart McInally
17. Rory Sutherland
18. John Andress
19. Alex Toolis
20. Magnus Bradbury
21. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22. Chris Dean
23. Dougie Fife

Referee: Ian Davies [WRU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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