Speculation has been building that the iconic Irish skipper will call it a day after the World Cup in October, but Foley believes his main man will play on.
O’Connell will surely be rested for Munster’s Guinness pro 12 clash with Connacht at Thomond Park 5.15 pm) on Saturday after leading Ireland to Six Nations Championship glory, but he’ll still have a big role to play in the remaining fixtures.
And the long haul? “He is contracted for another season. I am sure that it is something (retirement) that he obviously gets asked an awful lot about. To be honest I haven’t had the discussion with him but what I know is that he is contracted up to the end of next season and that is the way I view it.”
Foley yesterday praised O’Connell’s expertise in leading Ireland to the big win. “I think he was brilliant and the experience (the team have had) over the last number of years particularly in what they have to go through in Europe in terms of qualification was crucial. I think having that and having the ability then to use that experience in not to get too confused about what they needed to do and concentrate on their own game was huge. That was the thing that got them over the line. It was a great day of rugby. Foley is now looking forward to the Pro 12 run-in and figures the Six Nations win will do wonders for confidence in all four provinces in the coming weeks.
“I think for the whole country, everybody has a massive amount of pride with what happened at the weekend both with the ladies and the men’s teams.
“To win two championships like that within a day of each other is something that hasn’t happened before so it is something that everybody involved in rugby is quite proud of where they are at the moment.”
The Irish players with the heaviest workloads in recent weeks were no-shows at training in the University of Limerick yesterday, and Donnacha Ryan has once again been ruled out, this time after suffering a head injury playing for Munster A. However, other high-profile players such as Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Felix Jones, Ian Keatley and Tommy O’Donnell all figured in the session.
“Unfortunately Donnacha won’t be available this week,” said Foley, “he took a bang in the head and hasn’t progressed well with his return to play protocols. Other than that Duncan Casey is back fully training and James Cronin is back in modified training at the moment. Tyler Bleyendaal is training fully with us now and still has a bit to go in terms of getting the reps up and getting a chunk of contact under his belt but we are pretty pleased with where he is at, at the moment.”
Over the coming weeks the coach admitted that all provincial coaches would have to engage in astute man-management. “It is about the players to be honest. It is not about a schedule, we have got to see how they turn up, what their needs are after the campaign and it is important we look after them because we don’t play the following week but that probably gives another week to freshen them up. It is about making sure that we manage them properly.”
Meanwhile, Connacht has signed a new backrow forward from New Zealand to replace the Ulster-bound Willie Faloon.
Nepia Fox-Matumua, who has played ITM Cup rugby with Auckland, has signed a two-year deal with the province.
The 23-year-old, who has worked under Connacht head coach Pat Lam in the Auckland academy, is primarily an openside flanker who has also played Sevens rugby.
Lam says Nepia possesses natural ball skills that have seen him excel in Sevens, in addition to having excellent leadership qualities.
“He is a great team man and has captained different sides in his young career,” says Lam.
“With Willie Faloon returning to Ulster, another quality openside was needed for next season’s squad.”
Nepia, who made his debut for Auckland in 2012, is the great grandson of George Nepia, one of the most famous Maori rugby players who was the All Black fullback on the 1924 touring team to England that became known as the Invincibles.
His arrival will boost Connacht’s backrow which has suffered a number of injuries this season. With Faloon and Jake Heenan sidelined for the remainder of the season, both Eoin McKeon, back from a sternum injury, and Academy backrow player Eoghan Masterson come into the reckoning for Saturday’s clash with Munster.