A statement by the Irish Rugby Football Union and Munster Rugby announced his sudden death, saying: “It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to our coach, former captain, colleague and friend today, rest in peace Anthony Foley.”
Foley is survived by his wife Olive and two sons, Rory and Dan.
Foley had been involved in the backroom teams with Munster since 2009 in various roles.
Foley’s side had been due to take on the French team in the Stade Yves-du-Manoir, near Paris. Racing 92 counts Foley’s former teammate Ronan O’Gara among its coaching staff. The game was rescheduled as a mark of respect to Foley, his family, players, management and staff, the statement said.
Nicknamed ‘Axel’, the no-nonsense back-row forward made his debut for Munster against Swansea in November 1995, the first time the club played in the then Heineken Cup.
From Killaloe, Co Clare, Foley was a firm favourite with fans and a key figure in the Munster side that lifted the cup in 2006 and in 2008.
A record breaker, he scored 39 tries in the famous red jersey of his province and won 62 caps for Ireland.
His father Brendan was part of the Munster team that famously defeated the All Blacks in 1978, and his sister Rosie was a member of the Irish women’s squad.
Tributes flooded in following the announcement of his sudden death.
Frankie Sheahan, a former Irish and Munster star, posted a recent photo of him and others celebrating former Irish star Mick Galwey’s birthday.
“Distraught at the tragic news of Anthony Foley, great friend, teammate & legend. Super form last weekend at Mick Galwey’s 50th. Incomprehensible,” said Sheahan.
Former athlete Sonia O’Sullivan said his death was “sad and shocking”.
Rugby clubs across Ireland and England added sympathy messages. The European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) described Foley as a legend.
Chairman Simon Halliday said: “On behalf of EPCR, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to Anthony’s family and to everyone associated with Munster and Irish rugby. He was a magnificent player and a superb coach and he will be sorely missed.”
Foley was roundly praised for his ability to read the game of rugby in his role as a No 8, his intelligence on the field and his understated attitude.
Shane Byrne, former Irish hooker, told RTÉ radio: “As a player he had this innate ability to make the right decision at the right time.”
Eddie O’Sullivan, former Irish head coach, said: “Leadership is a special skill. It’s about knowing what to say and the time to say it. Anthony got that.”