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'Everyone says we're in transition, but players are here to win trophies' - Axel Foley

‘Everything in Munster is about being competitive’, says the legendary number eight.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

IT’S A TIME of change in European rugby, but perhaps in Munster they’ve become used to a little turmoil.

This year will be Anthony Foley’s first in charge of his native province having made the step up from forwards coach to replace Rob Penney.

Though, while the Kiwi’s tenure was characterised by a complete overhaul of the province, Foley has little time for talk of transition.

“Everybody says we’re in transition but we’ve a lot of players who are here to win trophies. That’s their role. Rather than sitting back and saying we’ll do it in three years time, well we’ll do it this year.”

Confident words, and not unrealistic given that Munster reached the semi-finals of both the Guinness Pro 12 and Heineken Cup last season. Only Glasgow (18) and Leinster (17) won more Pro 12 games than Munster’s 16 while their overall Pro 12 points difference was +199, second only to Leinster’s +202. But as if sensing spiralling expectations he adds a note of pragmatism.

“Whether we do or don’t [win trophies this year] I can’t tell you that now but our aim will be to get to the knockout stages”.

While playoffs and trophies are in Foley’s sights, those crucial top six positions for European qualification will give the league a new edge this season right from the off and Foley is looking forward to balancing the challenge of development versus keeping the senior players finely tuned.

“That’s the task and I think it’s something that you relish” said Foley.

“We’re going to have more emerging players coming through this year but it’s also important that we feed our older players the game time they need as well. It’s just about getting a good mix and a good balance to our team so we can be competitive and win games.”

With the financial clout of French rugby becoming ever stronger, Foley believes that Munster’s history of success can help in both keeping players at home and attracting new talent from abroad.

Competitive

“Everything in Munster is about being competitive, getting to the latter stages of competitions and winning trophies. We haven’t won since 2011 and we want to get back there. So our drive and our goal for our guys is to understand what it feels like to get there, and then lift a trophy.

“If we can do that then other offers don’t happen. Once they know we’re at a level which is competitive so they get top end professional rugby and they also get a chance to showcase [themselves], to get into the international rugby scene, I think those offers won’t affect them.”

Foley spoke positively about Munster’s recruitment in the off-season, naming Andrew Smith, Tyler Bleyendaal and Robin Copeland who will offer “a bit of experience and a bit of guile in midfield and a bit of pace and power up front”.

Ian Keatley and Robin Copeland Copeland in training last week. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In terms of back row depth the addition of Copeland is particularly welcome given Peter O’Mahony’s double shoulder reconstruction surgeries. The Munster captain says, “he’s a great athlete and a great professional. He’s brought a great edge to training and preseason and I think everyone’s looking forward to getting him into the jersey and seeing what he can do”.

This was echoed by Foley, who complimented the athletic Wexford man.

“He floats along the ground to be honest, for such a big man. He just moves very well. We’ve had to defend him a few times in the blue of Cardiff and he’s been a handful. We’re looking forward to having him on our side”.

Apart from those outside signings, those within will play a big part this season in Munster’s trophy drive. Last season Munster had JJ Hanrahan and Ian Keatley split time in the fly half jersey but in 2014/15 those expecting a straightforward battle for that shirt might be surprised.

“I’m open to playing both of them, to be honest with you” said Foley.

“A 10/12 of JJ, Johnny Holland, Keatley, Tyler Bleyendaal – I’m open to that, it’s just how we fit it in”.

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