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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 17 September, 2019
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Munster's Foley - 'Fellas are smiling a small bit, as opposed to last month'

The southern province face a pivotal European clash in Paris this evening.

WAS THE WIN over Ulster a turning point in Munster’s season or merely a positive blip in a run of poor form and defeats?

The jury remains out but, like Steven Avery, we will soon have an answer.

Anthony Foley’s men are in Paris for a Champions Cup clash with Stade Français this evening (KO 4.45pm Irish time, Sky Sports), a game that will either free their European campaign from its gloomy shackles or completely kill it.

Anthony Foley Munster's morale was boosted by the win over Ulster last weekend. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Munster’s head coach says the victory in Kingspan Stadium has lifted spirits, following as it did a five-game losing streak, but Foley insists his side are well aware that major improvements are still needed for this meeting with Stade, particularly after the Parisians beat Toulouse 18-17 at Stade Jean-Bouin last weekend.

“Fellas are smiling a small bit, as opposed to last month,” said Foley this week in Limerick. “We are still very hard on ourselves, as we would have seen from the weekend that there is still stuff to work on in our game.

You watch Stade and Toulouse, and you understand where you are going and the environment and the intensity and the physicality. There is stuff that we did in Ravenhill that we are not going to get away with over there.”

Foley highlights the “delivery of the ball” into the lineout as one key focus area, while again underlining the need for his side to be more accurate and clinical in the opposition 22 – a longstanding issue.

More positively, the former Ireland international was buoyed by the performance of his out-half, Ian Keatley, who had endured heavy criticism after a poor run of form in late 2015.

“Keats was going through a torrid time and I thought the way he managed the game and the way he controlled the game [was excellent] and I thought he stood up out there,” said Foley.

“I know he had one missed tackle early on [Stuart] McCloskey, but after that I thought he nailed his tackles. He nailed his kicks at goal and his kicking out of hand was the best I’ve seen out of him for a long time.”

Anthony Foley Foley knows vast improvement is still needed. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

As for the issue inside the attacking 22, Foley is hopeful that the sight of smiles on his players’ faces at training this week will be reflected in a lifting of the pressure to finish chances against Stade.

So often, Munster appear to tighten up under the mental demands of scoring, leading in turn to those costly errors in the 22.

“Everybody had a weight around their shoulders when you’re going through a period like that and I think going up and doing something that not many Munster teams have done in winning in Ravenhill, you can come away on the bus and be happy about it,” said Foley.

“But when you look at the game in the cold light of day, we still need to rectify a few issues and we’re doing our best to get that done. Hopefully, we can see that at the weekend.

We still have quality players in our side and it’s about building that confidence back up.”

Munster’s preparation for this clash with Stade was affected by the Ireland camp on Sunday night and Monday at Carton House, with 11 of the province’s players heading to Maynooth to work with Joe Schmidt for 24 hours.

Foley didn’t confirm the full list of Munster men involved, but did say that Robin Copeland was there and that Keatley and the promising Jack O’Donoghue were not.

The delayed start to their own training week saw Munster organise a two-day training camp in Limerick on Tuesday and Wednesday, allowing the Cork-based players to stay overnight and socialise with the rest of the squad.

“We went out for dinner [on Tuesday night],” said Foley. “Just being in each other’s company, because we still operate out of split centres we don’t see a lot of each other during the week in terms of what most other teams would get.

“So it’s important when we get opportunities to sit down and break bread and all that, that we do it together as a group.”

Ian Costello speaks to the players during training Munster's European season is on the line in Paris. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Foley is hopeful the slight change to preparations has had a positive effect on morale, combining with the win over Ulster to leave Munster in a positive place to produce a major European performance.

The pressure on Foley’s shoulders has been somewhat lifted after the result in Belfast, but he is all too aware that a European exit could see the heat come on him again.

“No doubt it’s a results-driven business we’re in here and there’s always going to be one very happy provincial coach in Ireland, there’ll be two sweating and there’ll be one under pressure,” said Foley.

That’s the way it’s been traditionally and that’s the way it will continue to be and it’s not about dodging the blows, it’s about just trying to understand it and trying to build momentum.

“The season is full of different stages where you need to build momentum and I would suggest we’re at a stage now where we need to go after our season.

“When you’re talking about a whole season, two seasons, you know, have we got the squad? Yes we do. Are we still trying to build? We are. And I don’t think you can do it over a short period of time.”

Stade Français:

15. Hugo Bonneval
14. Julian Arias
13. Waisea Vuidarvuwalu
12. Paul Williams
11. Josaia Raisuqe
10. Morné Steyn
9. Julien Dupuy

1. Zak Taulafo
2. Laurent Sempéré
3. Paul Alo Emile
4. Hugh Pyle
5. Paul Gabrillagues
6. Sekou Macalou
7. Sylvian Nicolas
8. Sergio Parisse (captain)

Replacements:

16. Laurent Panis
17. Heinke van der Merwe
18. Rabah Slimani
19. Gerhard Mostert
20. Jonathan Ross
21. Julien Tomas
22. Jules Plisson
23. Jonathan Danty

Munster:

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

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Mike Sherry
3. BJ Botha
4. Dave Foley
5. Mark Chisholm
6. Robin Copeland
7. Tommy O’Donnell
8. CJ Stander (captain)

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. John Ryan
18. Mario Sagario
19. Billy Holland
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Tomás O’Leary
22. Denis Hurley
23. Ronan O’Mahony

Referee: Nigel Owens [Wales].

‘I heard a crack in my neck and thought about my kids straight away’

Munster boost as Murray and Earls fit to start must-win Stade clash

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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