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Foley enthused as squad depth shows up well in Leinster victory

The likes of Ronan O’Mahony, Duncan Williams, Billy Holland and Dave O’Callaghan stood out in Limerick.

Dave O'Callaghan crosses for his second-half try.
Dave O'Callaghan crosses for his second-half try.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ANTHONY FOLEY SMILED and gave a slight shake of the head yesterday evening when we asked him about the performances of some of Munster’s fringe players during their 28-13 win over Leinster.

We re-phrased the question and Foley indicated that “[a] lot of lads showed up well.”

The former number eight doesn’t wholly agree with the idea of any of his squad members being on the fringes. All are equal in the Munster group, believes Foley.

That said, being deprived of Conor Murray, Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo for this inter-provincial clash meant opportunities for men who are somewhat less renowned than that quartet.

In their stead, the likes of Ronan O’Mahony, Billy Holland, Duncan Williams, Paddy Butler and Dave O’Callaghan stepped into prominent roles, driving an excellent Munster performance against a disappointing Leinster.

“These so called fringe players,” said Foley, “they turned up. It’s a big occasion, a sell-out, and it brings out the best in everyone. They bought into the occasion.”

Ian Madigan is tackled by Billy Holland Billy Holland wraps up Ian Madigan at Thomond Park. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Making his fifth start of the season on the left wing, 25-year-old O’Mahony impressed with a lively individual display, tackling aggressively, chasing kicks with intent and making metres with every touch of the ball.

“Last season, Ronan played really well at the start of the season and then was struggling to get game time,” explained Foley.

“This season, he’s more in the team than out of the team at times, and he’s asking a lot of questions of us as coaches, in terms of giving us plenty of reasons to pick him.”

At scrum-half, Williams box kicked well and added a threat around the fringes, while Holland racked up a heavy workload at lock. In the back row, in-game injuries to Robin Copeland and Tommy O’Donnell allowed Butler and then O’Callaghan to stand out.

Butler’s second-half break between Michael Bent and Tadhg Furlong was a highlight, even if his clever diagonal chip didn’t come off. O’Callaghan went one better and ducked under an attempted Kane Douglas tackle to score Munster’s third try.

“Dave is a super rugby player,” said a pleased Foley. “I first came across Dave when I was coaching the U20s, I had him for two years with the U20s. He can play in the second row and across the back row.

Andy Lee with Neil Cronin Garryowen scrum-half Neil Cronin made his Munster debut off the bench. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He’s very athletic. Unfortunately last season he ruptured his patellar tendon and it’s taken him time to get back from that. But as you can see, his physique and his ability to accelerate is something that not many teams have.

“I think over the next period of time, we’d like to see him grow. You don’t want to pigeonhole him [into one position], but a guy who can do what he can do is priceless to us at the moment.”

It remains to be seen whether those players can deliver again in their next first-team opportunity, although a handful of injury issues may mean those chances arrive on New Year’s Day away to Connacht.

“We picked up a few bangs again tonight,” indicated Foley post-match. “Robin Copeland obviously hurt his shoulder, Felix Jones got a bang in the shoulder as well. Tommy O’Donnell has a blood injury on his lip and Johne Murphy probably re-broke his nose again from last week.”

The province will provide a more detailed injury update on Monday, but Foley will rest easier knowing that his squad has shown encouraging depth.

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Murray Kinsella

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