When Rob Penny announced he wouldn’t be signing a new contract, the immediate front runner was Anthony Foley. Captain Paul O’ Connell was one of the first to put the former captain’s name forward and since a string of past players and pundits have called for Axel to be promoted to head coach. Here, Steve Neville offers us some reasons why.
Foley first went for the head coach’s position in 2012 after Tony McGahan stepped down and made it to a shortlist of three. While he didn’t get the job then, he was kept on as forwards coach and has since built an impressive CV. While forward coach at Munster, he continued to hone his coaching skills by breaking into international coaching by filling in as forwards coach for Ireland in 2012 when Gert Smal was forced to miss the Six Nations. He also served as head coach for the Wolfhounds in 2014 having been involved with them for the past few years alongside Erik Elwood. This season Munster have vastly improved in mauling and rucking under Foley and fine-tuned their issues with the lineout. His experience means he was rightly sought after by a few clubs outside of Ireland proving he is held in high regard. Some may raise the point that he has never been a head coach before, but it’s easy to forget Joe Schmidt had never been the top dog at a club before he arrived at Leinster. The tactical knowledge he has gained over the years of coaching alongside people like McGahan and Penny means he has the ability, knowledge and talent to succeed in a place where expectations are consistently high.
Being the Munster ‘A’ coach under McGahan and forwards coach under Penny means the only next step for a man with Foley’s ambition is the head coach job. When Rob Penny took over two years ago, he began a new project of fusing the traditional forward dominated playing style of Munster with a new style of rugby bringing in a fast paced running game. Foley has been an important cog in improving the skills of the Munster players and helping Penny bring the best out of the current squad. While Penny’s first season was an up and down year for the Munster men, his second has been excellent, with Munster sitting on top of the table in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 along with winning themselves a home quarter final in the Heineken Cup against Toulouse. Foley will know where Penny would have directed the club if he had stayed another year and while Foley will correctly want to stamp his own authority on the direction he takes Munster, he would be foolish to completely forget about the good work he helped Penny to do. The internal promotion of Foley will mean Munster can continue their success.
It cannot be denied that Munster runs in Axel’s blood. The one club man he amassed 202 caps for Munster in a spell which saw him captain the team to their first Heineken Cup in 2006. His association with Munster means that Foley will give everything to ensure his Munster team is successful. His success on the pitch has been followed by success off it and so it seems that fans of the club can look forward to Foley guiding the club to what many hope will be a fruitful period for Munster. Along with the fans, the players will be delighted that the popular Foley got the job and for the next two seasons’ they will offer him and his team all the support and more, like they have shown coaches in the past.
Anthony Foley’s appointment is one that fits all parties perfectly and fans can look forward to a new era of Munster rugby under one the clubs most loyal men. For now, as Foley said himself there is a job to do as the team pushes for titles on all fronts, but that can be done so with the knowledge that the future of Munster is in the safest hands.
Pundit Arena, Steve Neville.