Tony Foley finds himself in a low, low place after last weekend’s defeat
By Phil Rice
After an encouraging win over Ulster the previous week Munster had high hopes when they visited Stade Francais. But they crashed out of the European Champions Cup ignominiously.
Head Coach, Tony Foley is a proud Munsterman and every defeat hurts but last Saturday the pain was almost unbearable, “It’s a low, low, place we find ourselves in.
To be in a position here where after 30 minutes it’s nil-nil and traditionally you weather the first 20 minutes against a French team, then you have up to half time to get yourself into the game.
“We didn’t do that. We gave up two soft scores before half time and from there we didn’t manage to touch the scoreboard.”
This was all the more remarkable as Stade lost Fijian winger Josaia Raisuqe to a red card just before half time. This seemed to galvanise the French team and they upped their performance in the second half and Munster’s challenge evaporated.
Ian Keatley’s up and down season continued, after a man of the match performance against Ulster the previous week, he had a wretched day last Saturday. Foley must be regretting his preference for Keatley over JJ Hanrahan, who is thriving for his new club Northampton. Foley, who last week was offered a one year extension to his contract, which expires at the end of this season, was in morose mood after the game.
“It’s about results,” he said, “I have said it before and I am clear on it, if I don’t feel I can produce results there is no point in being here.”
Whether anyone else could produce better results in Europe is a matter for conjecture, the competition is now dominated by multinational English and French teams. The IRFU’s restrictions on the import of overseas players to the Irish provinces has had a pronounced impact on the once dominant Irish teams.
Despite Leinster’s improved form in the Pro12 league, there has been a real dip in the confidence of the provinces this season.
This turn of events will surely impact the Irish team as they prepare for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship.
The success of the Irish provinces in the Heineken Cup gave the Irish players a real lift as they joined forces in the national team. Time will tell as to the full impact on Joe Schmidt’s men but a poor display in this years Six Nations should surely lead to a review of the current policy of restricting the recruitment of overseas players.
A number of Ireland’s current players testify to the beneficial impact some of the quality overseas players had on their development.
Ruan Pienaar had a beneficial impact on Ulster last weekend as they stared defeat in the face against lowly French team Oyannax. He was drafted from the bench at half time with the Ulstermen trailing by 0-20.
A last gasp penalty by Paddy Jackson retained the provinces interest in the competition as they won 24-23.
It is difficult to assess at this stage of the season whether the Irish teams have deteriorated rapidly or whether the English and French teams have taken a giant stride forwards.
There is no doubt that the salary cap supposedly in force in the Champions Cup is being flaunted by the leading English and French teams.
The Irish, Welsh and Scottish teams have disappeared from the competitive map this season.
The performances by the national teams in this season’s Six Nations will have more than usual significance, as the affect on the national teams of the downturn in the form of the Celtic clubs in Europe can be assessed.
If England and France continue to struggle at international level and Ireland go from strength to strength perhaps the restrictions on importing players can be justified.
England and France have considerably more top flight club sides and can afford to introduce more overseas players as a result.
Perhaps we will have to accept that the glory days of the Irish provinces in Europe are a thing of the past.
If Ireland retain their Six Nations crown this year maybe that is a price worth paying for a successful national side.
Time will tell.