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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 7 July, 2020
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Munster can give Foley a major boost with derby win over Leinster

The former No. 8 has not had the easiest ride in his opening months as Munster head coach.

Foley is hopeful that tomorrow is the beginning of a strong run of wins for Munster.
Foley is hopeful that tomorrow is the beginning of a strong run of wins for Munster.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A MONTH INTO his first season in a job that would long have held ‘dream’ status for him, Anthony Foley isn’t having the best of times at Munster.

Home defeats to Edinburgh and the Ospreys in the Guinness Pro12, worries over attendances at Thomond Park, and an injury list that grew again this week have all added to the generally negative atmosphere around the province at present.

It is funny how perceptions can change rapidly, however, and a win over Leinster at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow evening would launch Foley’s reign as head coach of Munster in the right direction.

One win won’t wholly solve the issues afflicting the southern province at the moment, but the morale boost and jump up the league table caused by a positive result would lift some of the pressure on Foley’s shoulders.

Despite the poor start to life in charge of the province for whom he played 202 times and earned his coaching stripes, Foley insists he is enjoying the burden.

Yeah, I think it’s great,” says Foley. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, there’s a lot of pressure here. There’s a lot of decisions to be made and essentially the part that I really enjoy is watching the boys play. Now, we could do with winning a couple more games.

“We could definitely do with winning at home, but we’re still in a good position in the league in terms of there being a lot of teams around us. We’re playing two teams that are around us in Leinster and the Scarlets, that’s the next two weeks for us.

“We need to get a couple of good results in the next few weeks and then we stop talking about the Ospreys and stop talking about Edinburgh.”

Conor Murray dejected Munster suffered disappointment last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Given the injury list at Munster, which has included captain Peter O’Mahony, Foley could be forgiven for cursing his luck in the early stages of the campaign. Self pity is not among the ex-Ireland international’s thoughts, however.

“What is luck? To me luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” explains Foley. “The games we lost, we lost predominantly because we didn’t execute and we weren’t accurate. We weren’t accurate in the Edinburgh game and we left opportunities out on the field against the Ospreys.

In many respects, it’s in our own hands. We’ve just got to control what we’re doing and if we do that, and put a sustained performance together, we should be able to win some of these games going forward.”

The hope on Foley’s part is that any run of wins starts against Leinster tomorrow, as Munster look to make further strides with their shift in game plan.

The attacking philosophy down south has been altered under Brian Walsh and Foley this season, something Leinster fullback Rob Kearney says his side have noted in their pre-match analysis.

“They’ve changed a fraction,” says Kearney. “They’re sticking a little bit more to the skillset of the guys that they have available.

“Under Rob [Penney], I think they tried to play a very wide, expansive game plan, whereas this year, we see a lot more hit-ups in midfield with Denis [Hurley], and I’m sure [Andrew] Smith will be doing the same this week.”

Andrew Smith Kearney expects Smith to offer up some direct running for Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“They’re also trying to exploit teams a little bit more around the ruck area, with their wingers and their nines taking on those ruck defenders. So I think it has changed slightly from last year, which is probably another reason why they’re not quite hitting top form just yet.”

Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor could certainly empathise with the difficulties of bringing about a change in playing style at an Irish province, given the conversions he has made tactically since joining in 2013.

Not that he’s willing to express it publicly ahead of tomorrow’s derby clash.

I’m not really that interested in what Axel’s going through at the minute, to be honest,” answers O’Connor.

“It’s more about what we’re doing, you know? It’s about making sure that you get your processes right, the things that make you a good team, the things that drive our environment.

“That’s the things that are important and I’m sure those are the things that Axel is driving down there this week.”

Indeed, Foley has outlined that focusing on Munster’s processes is the key for this weekend, rather than any motivational and emotional backlash from the home defeats to Edinburgh and the Ospreys.

That said, the 40-year-old would certainly benefit from his team hitting their most aggressive, technically sound and tactically astute levels in Dublin tomorrow night.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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