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'That's the way we can rebuild Munster to where it was' - Erasmus
CJ Stander said the grief over Anthony Foley’s death drove the province to success against Glasgow.

RASSIE ERASMUS CAME across as a classy operator throughout last week, dealing with the mixture of grief and shock Munster encountered at the death of Anthony Foley and helping them towards an important 38-17 win over Glasgow on Saturday.

The South African was clearly deeply affected by the untimely loss of his head coach and, first and foremost, his friend.

Erasmus has only been in Ireland for a period of four months or so, but he already appears to understand the essence of Munster.

Peter O'Mahony consoles an emotional Simon Zebo ahead of the game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Simon Zebo and Peter O'Mahony before kick-off. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The director of rugby stressed that Saturday’s bonus-point victory was all about honouring Foley, but he also pointed out that Munster’s fallen brother would want this performance to be the start of something.

While many on the outside doubted whether this particular crop of Munster players had a display like Saturday’s in them, Foley never lost faith.

“That was his frustration,” said Erasmus at Thomond Park on Saturday. “That was his biggest frustration: that he believed so much in the players and he knew what they can do and what they’re capable of, but sometimes they were not believing in themselves.

“That was his frustration. I think the players, and myself, should take a lot of learning out of this.

“We’ll never get crowds as emotionally involved as they were today, because this was special, but players should realise that the fans will be here if we play like that and the stadiums will be full and that’s the way we can rebuild Munster to where it was.”

One senses that somewhere Foley is nodding his head at that sentiment, willing this Munster squad to go on and build something special. How Foley would love to see Thomond Park throb like it did on Saturday more regularly.

That said, it will be difficult for Munster to find that same emotional pitch in the months to come. They have the memory of Foley to play for, although Erasmus understands that Saturday was an exceptional day.

“They did it for Axel, it’s as simple as that,” said Erasmus. “If you’ve got something like that in your heart, when you’re really tired that doesn’t go away. It stays there.

Munster players observe a minutes silence for their late Head Coach Anthony Foley Dan Sheridan / INPHO Munster paid the ultimate tribute to Foley. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“You can’t, for years to come, for months to come, you can’t only rely on that because, in the most respectful way, life slowly moves on.

“But it was tough to get guys off the park. It was tough to keep guys from wanting to go onto the park and make a difference there, which again is just a tribute to Axel and the respect the players had for Axel.”

The passion from Munster’s players was intense, though the manner in which they channelled that into a controlled, deliberate and largely intelligent aggression was most impressive.

Human beings are capable of such amazing feats even in times of deep shock and sadness.

“Everyone was grieving, but to see all the support the family got, that we got, it was massive,” said CJ Stander after another monumental shift in the back row.

“Especially at the funeral, to see the amount of people that were there. That’s the thing with the Irish culture, when one goes…”

Stander pauses, holds back tears and takes several long, deep breaths before continuing.

“… everyone is behind him. It just shows the culture is supporting. They look after their own and I think they lost a son, someone that brought the jersey and the crest at his best capabilities and it was amazing to see the support, the people coming out to support the family and players. It meant a lot.

“I’ve always loved that, and it’s a thing I’ll cherish for life.”

CJ Stander with Tony and Dan Foley Ryan Byrne / INPHO Foley's sons, Dan and Tony, joined Munster on the pitch. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

It was incredible for Munster’s emotion not to spill over in this victory over Glasgow.

There was, of course, a red card for Keith Earls in the first half and the left wing’s emotional response was completely understandable. After a hellish week, only those with hearts of stone could fail to empathise with the Limerick man.

“You know, it’s probably one of the single times in my entire coaching career that I could actually understand his actions, that tackle, you know,” said Erasmus of the Earls incident involving Fraser Brown.

“It’s emotion, he’s psyched up, then the hooker’s momentum going a certain way, and probably the referee made the right call there.

“But it’s almost understandable in a way. Because it is tough to control your emotions, you could see the way we scrummed and mauled, that there was a lot of emotion in there along with the technique. And then Keith was really up there emotionally.”

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Erasmus was heartened to see that Earls gathered himself for his team-mates, even helping to keep them on track at half-time, when Munster held a 24-3 lead.

“He spoke at half-time, what he told the guys at half-time was that we were in the game and we can still win it the way we want to do things,” said Erasmus.

“He’s obviously now a bit sad about that but with us getting the win and him helping us through the game, with his input and technical knowledge, he was still part of it up until the end.

A view of Thomond Park as the two teams stand for a minutes silence in memory of Anthony Foley Ryan Byrne / INPHO Munster will hope to see big crowds all season. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“Which was nice but you know, I almost understand what he did under the circumstances. I’m not saying it was the right thing to do, I just understand what happened.”

After the rollercoaster of the past week, Munster must now turn their attention towards a Guinness Pro12 clash with Ulster in Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening, although Olive, Dan and Tony Foley will remain their priority.

‘Axel’ will continue to drive their every move.

Stander wore the 24 shirt on Saturday as Munster retired their number eight shirt for the day in memory of Foley, but the Ireland international says he will be honoured to take to the pitch with that famous red shirt on his back.

“I felt that he brought a lot to that jersey, he gave everything in that jersey, I think giving that jersey off for the day was a great touch,” said Stander.

“You can’t do him justice in that jersey, so playing at 24 was still a massive honour. You only get [a Munster jersey] for a game, you’re just borrowing it from the next guy.

“For me, it’s going to be a massive honour to play in that eight jersey again. It means I’m going to have to play harder, to make him proud.”

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A touch of class from Leinster as they wear Munster red in honour of Anthony Foley

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