Foley focus switches to Castres after ‘nice little warm-up’

“JUST a nice little warm-up game for Castres.”

That was Anthony Foley’s jocose way yesterday of switching his attentions from the international arena to next Friday’s Heineken European Cup game in the south of France. There seems to be little rest these day for our top players, but Foley and Paul O’Connell insist there will be no difficulty motivating themselves for the clash with Castres.

Until Ronan O’Gara’s magnificent match winning drop goal in the 79th minute, the man of the match award was going to Foley with O’Connell only a short step further down the pecking order.

Of Saturday’s game O’Connell conceded: “It was unbelievably tough, it always is against Argentina. We knew they were going to try and maul us, that they would pick and go off the base of rucks, set up mauls, so it was all about defence.

“To be fair, we made a lot of mistakes, giving away penalties where we shouldn’t be giving away penalties and really dug a hole for ourselves but the second half was a good professional performance and we came through.”

O’Connell agreed that the game, if anything, was more physical than the recent clash with South Africa because the Pumas prefer a more tight game.

“These guys are one-off runners, they’re Rambos, they pick and go and they’ll do it all day if they can,” he pointed out. “All our tight five, I’d say, had tackle counts in double figures.” O’Connell admitted there was a “party line” that the players wouldn’t publicly discuss the row concerning gouging by Argentina except to agree that he wasn’t the victim of any foul play.

“It’s down to the match commissioner now and nothing to do with us,” he claimed. “Rugby is a tough game. Everything was going on, a lot of big hits. Any dirty play will be sorted out by the commissioner. They are very cynical in their own half of the pitch. We have backs like Ronan O’Gara, Brian O’Driscoll, Shane Horgan, we want to get the ball wide and play rugby. They want to keep it tight and spoil, harry, maul, pick and go.

“It’s strange that Pichot should say we didn’t play in the spirit of the game but that’s his opinion. I’ve been on the receiving end of beatings and come out with comments like that as well.

“I don’t know if it was sour grapes. It was a tough game and they were unlucky to lose it. It would have been a great win for them and they’re a team doing very well at the moment, so I imagine they’re disappointed. He’s a good guy and a great player. I wouldn’t slight his opinion because he’s a good man, but it was a strange thing to say.

“Argentina are getting stronger and will be very tough World Cup opposition in three years time.

“At the end, we had a play called and Rog had a free rein to do what he wanted. Maybe we should have tried to gain another five or ten yards through the forwards but he was in the zone at the time, was knocking everything over and called for it from Strings and over it went. We’ve come on a long way.

“To beat South Africa was great for us and while we didn’t hit the heights against the USA and again today, more importantly it was a good professional performance and the kind of game we might have lost five or six years ago. We had the grit, the determination, the experience to pull through so this was up there with the South African game.”

Foley agreed that it wasn’t the best of Irish performances, largely because of “the messy conditions” that made ball handling very hard.

“But he said the Argentinians “got ten points from our turnovers early on, while we needed to stop making mistakes and build our own game and once we did that, we showed that we could make a lot of trouble for them. We’re tired now but we’ll have no trouble getting up for next week. This was just a great warm-up for Castres.”

O’Connell agreed that the four weeks with the national side had been pretty intensive and they were now a little tired. However, three wins out of three meant it had been “a great autumn for us and we’re going to build on it. It’s not going to be difficult to motivate ourselves for Castres.

“Alan Gaffney, Brian Hickey and the fitness team have devised a plan that gives us a bit of a break during the week. We’ll get the essentials done. European Cup games with Munster are the big days, especially in France.”

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