Munster aim to honour Foley in European semi-final

Julian GUYER
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Irish province Munster have been riding an even greater tidal wave of emotion following the shock death of former coach and Ireland back-row forward Anthony Foley

Munster return to Dublin's Lansdowne Road for the first time since the death of Anthony Foley determined to again honour their late coach in a European Champions Cup semi-final against title-holders Saracens.

Irish province Munster, one of rugby union's best-supported teams, have been riding an even greater tidal wave of emotion following the shock death of Foley on the eve of a Champions Cup pool match in Paris in October.

The former Munster and Ireland back-row forward was 42.

A week earlier, he'd been at Lansdowne Road, a ground where he made more than 30 appearances as a player, to see Munster lose 25-14 to Irish rivals Leinster in the Celtic League.

"The last game we played here, where Anthony was in charge of the team, he was the head coach, it was the last time we were in that changing room, he was with us in the changing room and then the next week he passed away," Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus told reporters on Friday.

"I just know the private conversations we had after that loss against Leinster, I know what I would tell him and I know he would smile but it wouldn't be something I could say in front of you guys (the media) now," the South African added.

"I just think he would be really proud, because the guys carry him in our hearts every day.

"We talk about him, he's part of our daily training and I think that would put a smile on his face and hopefully we can make him proud tomorrow."

Although Munster are two-time European champions, they've made pool stage exits in each of the last two seasons and their 2014/15 European campaign included a 33-10 group phase defeat by London club Saracens, also the reigning English champions.

Saracens boss Mark McCall was full of admiration for the way Munster had transformed their playing fortunes while mourning Foley.

"It's been remarkable, it’s been a master-class in how they dealt with something so terrible," said McCall, himself a former Ireland centre.

"I don’t know how they did it but they did. They have shown some real class in the weeks and months after that tragedy."

But McCall stressed that sentiment alone could not have taken Munster, ferocious in defence, this far in Europe.

"Man and ball is a big strength, their kicking game's good, their kick chase is good," he explained.

"You've said their defence. I think the exceptional thing is how hard they work.

"Of all the teams we've analysed this year, I don't think there's a team who work as hard and fight for each other the way they do, which is why they come out the right end of a lot of results this year."

He added: "I think they've got a really smart coaching team.

"We've got to be adaptable and flexible on the day and they might hit us with some things that we've got to be able to deal with.

"Having said that, we've got to match their work-rate, their intensity on the day."