Foley takes charge of his first home game since succeeding Rob Penney as Munster head coach in the unusual surrounds of the Regional Sports Centre, the first time the province has played a senior home game outside of Cork or Limerick in the professional era, save for a handful of European knockout games at Lansdowne Road.
He will use his final pre-season friendly to reintroduce some of his Emerging Ireland tourists from the summer and blood new signings Robin Copeland and Andrew Smith in this now annual fixture with the Premiership outfit. Yet, most of all, Foley will want to see his players rebound from last Saturday’s 45-8 hammering at Gloucester.
“Our use of ball was poor. I don’t think we played the game in the right areas of the pitch,” Foley said of last weekend’s heavy defeat.
“We’re looking to address that. We’re looking to maintain a lot of the things that we were good at last year. We want to remain stingy in defence and we want a forward pack that is generating winners’ ball.”
Introducing the likes of No.8 Copeland, the summer signing from Cardiff Blues who was one of Emerging Ireland’s standout players in June, and fellow tourists Billy Holland, Sean Dougall and Johne Murphy, should give a Munster side still without its frontline Test players a more streetwise demeanour in that regard, although Foley was at pains not to disparage the efforts of last weekend’s less experienced line-up.
“I knew they left everything out on the pitch. When they scored a try that went the length of the pitch in the last play of the game, you know that fellas are still trying. And when you see the last-ditch tackles going in in the corner, even though you’re 30 points down and fellas are still scrambling to turn them over; look I just said to them ‘I can’t fault your attitude or your work rate, but accuracy let us down and our inability to keep the ball killed us.’
“What we focused on all week is possession and getting the ball, and when we get it, we keep it.”
Foley will want his players to get a win under their belts ahead of next Friday’s Guinness Pro12 kick-off at Thomond Park against Edinburgh, but getting the performance standards back up to acceptable levels is the chief objective against London Irish this evening.
Billy Holland, who returns to duty in the second row alongside captain Donncha O’Callaghan, recognises the need to achieve both objectives.
“After last weekend, there’s an added bit of pressure and an added bit of bite in training, so it’s very important,” Holland said.
“We’ve got to start winning games. It’s a habit and we don’t want to be waiting until halfway through September before we start.”
J Murphy; R O’Mahony, A Smith, C Bohane, D Sweetnam; J Holland, C Sheridan; J Ryan, K O’Byrne; S Archer, D O’Callaghan – captain; B Holland; CJ Stander, S Dougall, R Copeland.
G Slattery, D Casey, A Cotter, BJ Botha, S McCarthy, J Madigan, S Buckley, B O’Mahony, D Williams, D Johnston, I Dineen, R Scannell.
A Fenby; A Lewington, T Fowlie, G Armitage, W Harries; M Dorrian, T O’Leary; M Parr D Paice, H Aulika; J Sinclair, N Rouse; K Low, C Gilsenan, L Narraway.
G Ellis, T Court, L Halavatau, B Cowan, O Treviranus, M Mayhew, D Allinson, S Geraghty, J Short, E Sheridan, T Ojo, T Homer, C Noakes.
Munster’s newest full-back Stephen Fitzgerald will lead his province’s U20 side in France tomorrow in the knowledge first-team coach Anthony Foley has tagged him as a player of “unbelievable potential.”
The 18-year-old from Limerick was one of 11 Munster debutants in last Saturday’s pre-season friendly defeat at Gloucester, just five months after picking up a Munster Schools Senior Cup final runners-up medal with Ardscoil Rís.
Yet though the first year academy entrant has rejoined his age-grade team for tomorrow’s Clermont International Tournament clash with Leicester at Stade de Besse, Fitzgerald and his fellow young guns who appeared at Kingsholm last weekend have been told by Foley their readiness for Guinness Pro12 action this season will be assessed continually.
“It’s a gradual thing. We’ve got to get them physically ready for it. What would have happened for them at the weekend is that they would have seen what the gulf is,” Foley said.
Munster’s Peter Malone-coached U20s begin their interprovincial campaign next Friday night against Leinster at Ashbourne RFC, but Foley did not rule out a Guinness Pro12 debut this season.
Whether that comes before Christmas, Foley was unsure, but added: “He looked to me to have a composure and ability to think that you wouldn’t say he’s 18. We’ll see how he goes through the season.”