Munster boys become men to deliver performance Axel would be proud of

‘It was a privilege to experience what we’ve experienced here.’

“I THINK A lot of the boys turned into men this week.”

The second sentence from an emotional CJ Stander as he takes his seat in the press room, after he and Munster have dismantled Glasgow on a 38-17 scoreline at Thomond Park to pay Anthony Foley a fitting tribute.

It has been a nightmare week for Munster, but they have been swift to point out that what they have had to deal with is nothing in comparison to the turmoil Olive, Dan and Tony Foley have been thrown into.

Stephen Archer after the game Munster sang 'Stand Up and Fight' after their win. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

There was a relief in hearing Jerome Garces’ whistle to signify the start of today’s Champions Cup fixture. After the pain in Killaloe over the last few days, this was a chance for Munster to escape and pay respects to Foley through their actions.

Of most pleasure for Munster is that their win came due to the kind of performance that Foley had pushed them to deliver in recent seasons.

“Rassie [Erasmus] said before the match, ‘Boys, if we’re going to do justice to Axel we have to play the way he wants us to play.’ I’ve sat here week in and week out and told you that we made mistakes, did this and need to fix that,” said Stander.

Today, we performed the way Axel wanted us to three years ago, since we started.

“I think we did him proud today. He’s not a man that really smiled a lot, he’s probably up there now saying, ‘Boys, they scored a mauling try,’ but I think he’s proud today, smiling down on the boys. My heart is with Olive, Dan and Tony.”

Munster’s ability to produce the technical detail and quality that went along with the obvious passion was astounding.

All the more so because they felt exactly the kind of emotion that it seemed obvious they would.

“It’s the small things,” said director of rugby Erasmus. “You get onto the bus to the field and Axel’s seat is there. You get into the changing room and normally he’s there. All the little things that remind you of it.

“Then you get to the field and the way the Irish people, the Munster people, do things is very personal and with so much emotion.

Ian Keatley after the game 22/10//2016 Ian Keatley shows his emotion after the game. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“I wasn’t sure how that would impact on everybody, us and the opposition. So I’m relieved that the guys handled it like that and we could put together a performance purely for Axel.

“That’s what the performance was about so we’re very, very happy about that.”

Erasmus said Munster mentioned Foley as often as they could last night, this morning and even during the game. There was no attempt to put the tragedy to their back of their minds and focus in on a normal game-day routine.

The Thomond Park crowd was immense in playing its part in the success too. The volume inside the Limerick stadium was deafening at times, as the Munster fans paid their own tribute to Foley.

“In a situation as tragic as Axel’s death you can never find a silver lining, that’s probably disrespectful,” said Erasmus of the crowd. “But knowing Axel, I know it probably wouldn’t be disrespectful.

“It was a privilege to experience what we’ve experienced here. It’s just unreal, and I can include all Irish people in that. It’s not just Munster, it’s unreal how personal, emotional – how people do things here. Then you get to the park and it’s even more exaggerated.

“It’s tough to understand how one would want to be in any other place than here, after experiencing that. For me, personally, it was just a great honour.”

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Thomond Park and Munster connect like we haven’t seen for some time

‘I know he meant the world to them, he meant the world to me’ – Stander

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