Given Matt O’Connor was fired as head coach by Leinster and Neil Doak is filling the role at Ulster until the arrival of Les Kiss, one might have expected Munster’s Anthony Foley to be displaying signs of pressure in the build-up to Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 final against Glasgow Warriors at the Kingspan Stadium, Belfast.
Silverware in his first year in the job would surely cement Foley’s position but until victory over the Scots is achieved, nothing seems assured.
If Foley is feeling even a little uneasy, however, he was not showing any signs at Thomond Park yesterday.
“The final is an occasion and you don’t play the occasion, you play the game,” he commented. “There will be a lot of hype. There will be a lot of fanfare.
“But it is about your own preparation and making sure that you are right.”
His Connacht counterpart Pat Lam told Foley recently of how the Northampton set-up of which he was a member in 2000 when they beat Munster in the Heineken Cup final cut a lot of their week of the final short “because bodies at this stage of the year are in their 48th week of work.”
Foley added: “It is a long time and now it is a case of making sure we have energy in the legs when we get up to Belfast so we can have a go at it.”
As one of the cutest leaders ever to lead a Munster team, Foley is also adept at keeping his players relaxed and out of the limelight.
“I don’t want to be telling people what to do because every situation changes and different things pop up,” he said. “We have tried to encourage the players to make decisions and be accountable for those decisions.”
He was referring in part to the dodgy moments endured by CJ Stander, Simon Zebo and Ian Keatley during last week’s game against the Ospreys.
“CJ had an outstanding game but yet when I met him on Monday, he said, ‘I know, I know,’” in reference to the pass that gifted the Welsh side seven points.
“We knew Rhys Webb would be in there fishing around. They were looking to burst from there and it was the same with Simon’s kick. Dan Evans came across and was looking to draw Evans forward. It hit Hassler’s heel and bounced up. That happens.
“There are no coaches going in throwing hats off the wall or anything like that; we understand that mistakes happen when you’re trying stuff. We’re all on for having a go, but you have to be accountable for what you’re doing.”
Keatley’s failure to land five of his seven kicks at goal could well have cost Munster their place in Saturday’s final but the out-half’s reaction has been very much to his coach’s liking.
“After the game, all I would have to said to him is that he’ll be judged on what he does next,” Foley stated. “You can beat yourself up, but the most important thing is how you turn up on Monday. And he turned up on Monday and was running the show. He turned up Tuesday and was running the show. So on Thursday I expect the same thing.
“As we get closer to the game, the coaches tend to fade into the background and the Paulies, the Conors, the Petes and the Keats are the ones really driving it. That’s the way it should be.”
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