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Keatley 'refocused and recharged' thanks to winter break

Munster head coach called his out-half superb after pulling the strings of a hard-fought away win today.

MUNSTER HEAD COACH Anthony Foley believes a week out of the firing line helped his out-half Ian Keatley regain confidence and decide today’s inter-provincial clash against Ulster in Belfast.

Keatley was the centre of a high-profile storm before Christmas after a small section of a Thomond Park crowd sarcastically cheered the sight of him being replaced during the home loss to Leicester.

Ian Keatley kicks a penalty Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Foley opted to rest his playmaker last week for the visit of Leinster after discussing the problem with Keatley. And today, the 28-year-old showed why he was brought in to learn at the heel of Ronan O’Gara and entrusted with the reins since the great man left.

“Keats went through a tough time,” Foley said after this evening’s 7 – 9 win away to Ulster, Munster’s first victory in Belfast since October 2010.

“Talking to the lad we felt a week off last week would be best for him, let him refocus and recharge. I thought he did that well last week and I thought he was superb out there.

Particularly in the second half, sitting back, taking on the drop-goal, kicking the three points  to put us ahead and then picking out the corners to keep us down there.
“Even his touch-finders from penalties, he was getting an extra foot out of them and that put us in good positions for the rest of the game.

Keatley’s two penalties were unspectacular, but solid: precisely what you want when a kicker places the ball 35 metres out and right of goal. The second of those kicks would give Munster victory, just three minutes after he recognised the futility of continuing to run into Ulster’s solid white wall of defence and called a drop-goal opportunity on himself.

It was a textbook drop-kick rather than a dramatic one, but the timing of it was important. After 57 minutes with Ulster leading 7 -3, the decision to step back in the pocket suddenly cranked the pressure up on Ulster and installed belief in the visitors.

His quiet efficiency brought Munster a first win in six attempts, and that will hopefully help Keatley and his team return to form just in time for their remaining three Champions Cup pool fixtures.

What a difference a few days off can make, eh?

“Everyone’s different,” adds Foley.

“He was going through a tough period. You can’t keep him out getting battered week in, week out, whether it’s personally or publicly.

“Ian’s a vital cog for us, so there’s no point in burying him. It’s important to give him some life and hopefully now this kick-starts the rest of his season.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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