The spirit of Anthony Foley was very evident before and after Ireland’s defeat of the mighty All-Blacks — ending 111 years of pain.
The Munster players formed a figure eight when facing New Zealand’s Haka before kick-off, in tribute to Foley’s playing number, and promptly channelled the indefatigable former Ireland captain. The poignant memorial set the tone for an unforgettable Irish performance in Chicago resulting in the landmark 40-29 win.
His family said the victory on Saturday night and the tributes before and after kick-off were “very special”.
In a post on the Axel Foley Memorial Page on Facebook, the Foley family said: “To say that we were touched by how Ireland faced the New Zealand haka, drawing inspiration from the No. 8, would be an understatement.
“Ironically, 15 years ago Anthony played for Ireland against and lost to New Zealand on a score of......40-29.”
The family said: “Today (Sunday) is our second #8masses4no8 Sunday and we’ll be remembering Anthony and all who have gone before us by lighting our candle.
“We will also dedicate it as thanks to Anthony’s former colleagues for this special moment, for his life and for the lives of all others who have gone before us, and to all for their support.”
The page was set up by Axel Foley’s son, Tony, after he returned home from the Munster-Glasgow Warriors game where the players and fans united in remembering the Munster legend.
The #8masses4no8 campaign encourages people to go to Mass and pray for deceased family and friends and Tony’s own Dad if they so wish. Foley (42) died on October 16, before Munster’s Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 in Paris. Ireland Captain Rory Best said the team and management spoke about paying tribute to Foley before the game.
“I think a lot’s been made of the sad news that Munster got a few weeks ago and this was the national team’s first time together since his passing. So we felt that it was the right thing to do and then to put the Munster body to the front that.
“It just felt like the right thing to do and it was our way, as an Irish national team, just to show a mark of respect to Axel and his family.”
Ireland’s class of 2016 assured their place in the history books, with Best aware of his personal accolades as captain — but more concerned with honouring the late Foley.
“Obviously, there was a lot of emotion and the Munster boys got a lot from that,” said Best. “It was an emotionally charged day for us. Ultimately, we did a lot of our work earlier in the week so we could draw on a bit of that emotion. You’ve got to take a moment every time you make history.”
While hailing the tributes to Foley, Schmidt also admitted Ireland must quickly refocus — with New Zealand to face yet again, in Dublin on November 19.
“I really thought the players did themselves proud, but to be fair they did Axel proud and his family, and they did their country proud,” said Schmidt.