Very few Irish players have the happiest memories of the Rugby World Cup and Munster coach Anthony Foley is no exception.
He was a member of the squad in South Africa in 1995 and Australia in 2003 and while he fully enjoyed the experience neither he nor Ireland fared particularly well.
However, with 62 Irish caps and two Heineken Cups medals to his credit along with numerous other honours, few are more qualified to speak about Ireland’s RWC prospects over the coming weeks or how the event is coming across as a public spectacle.
Given his Munster role, Foley is particularly happy about the form of Simon Zeb, Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan.
“These lads have done really well and it’s great to see how they have stepped up with this level of performance on such an occasion”, Foley enthused.
“Look at Simon Zebo and what he had to do to cement himself in the squad. He had to fight tooth and nail to get in there.
"His ‘try’ on Sunday was the greatest Irish try never to be scored but we see that most days here when he trains with us. He has all the skills, he has the ability and it’s great to see it on the world stage again.
“In general, the World Cup has been very exciting because a lot of the so-called Tier Two teams have stepped up to another level.
"The crowd at Wembley on Sunday was incredible. Ireland have come across a couple of those teams early on, Canada were quite good for large periods before discipline cost them. Romania stood up and gave a very physical performance.
"But on the other side of it, Ireland were very clinical and their injury profile is pretty clean which is very important going into a must-win game against Italy which will be their [Italy’s] World Cup.”
Foley has never been one to get ahead of himself but he is confident as to how far Ireland could go.
“It wasn’t long ago that we were ranked No 2 in the world so that states we can get to the final four”, he reasoned. “A lot is dependent on how they play and perform against Italy. If they can get a result against the French, it’s knock-out rugby from that point.”
England’s decision to chase the win rather than settle for a possible draw against Wales has obviously captured the attention of a man who captained club, province and country on many occasions.
“If you gamble, you put it all in and make sure you win the ball in an area where it’s easier to maul off”, says Foley.
“It wasn’t the easiest kick but they have world-class kickers so you’d imagine Farrell would have kicked it even under the pressure.
"A draw would have left a very interesting couple of weeks in that group but you live and die by those decisions and unfortunately it didn’t come off like it did for Japan a week earlier.
“These issues have to be discussed, I imagine Robshaw [the England captain] will take all the blame but there’s a senior group there that would be the decision makers and it wouldn’t just rest with him.”
And with a quiet smile he quipped: “For all the talk of World Cups, we just hope we can get a good crowd into Thomond Park at 6pm on Friday for the Pro 12 game against Glasgow! That’s my priority.”
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