Back in October, on another routine Champions Cup weekend, rugby took a back seat as news emerged of the tragic passing of Munster head coach and Ireland legend Anthony Foley while in Paris for the southern province’s clash with Racing 92.
Following the devastating news, the fixture was immediately cancelled and the Munster squad returned to Limerick heartbroken at the loss of their friend and colleague.
In the days and weeks that followed, the outpouring of support and grief was a testament to the character of Foley, and from it Munster became a galvanised unit that looked to honour their friend with their performances on the field.
Having built a strong foundation of excellent performances prior to Foley’s passing, the Limerick-based outfit have continued to deliver emphatic and spirited victories that now see them topping the Pro 12 table and on the verge of qualification for the Champions Cup knockout stages.
This weekend, Munster once again make the trip to Paris for the rescheduled fixture with Racing 92 and to a man, it will surely be a haunting journey for the men in red.
Rassie Erasmus, Munster’s Director of Rugby, is all too aware of the emotion that his side will feel but firmly believes they can harness that emotion and turn it into some kind of positive and ensure they once again honour Foley in the best way possible.
Speaking to The42, Erasmus said:
“He’s every week in our thoughts.
“We’re building game plans and sometimes targets around Axel. Next week will be an emotional week, but we’ve had a few emotional weeks so hopefully we’ll be able to channel it in the right direction.”
Munster will have a full compliment of players to chose from for the January 7th clash as Erasmus has rotated the squad of players throughout the Christmas period and the provincial clashes, taking nine points from a possible ten.
Having options across practically all 15 positions, Erasmus is clearly looking to field his best and in-form players.
“I will have a good look at individual performances (from the win over Connacht). The toughest thing is to break continuity and combinations, but then if a guy really plays so well and is knocking down the door it would be stupid not to give a guy like that a chance.
“Currently as coaches, we are playing with a few ideas in our head. There are guys that performed so well that you can’t ignore them, but on the other hand: for the other guys it’s one big game.”
The clash with Racing 92 will hold huge significance and sentiment to all those in red so the expectation is for a tempered but emphatic performance from the province, the kind in keeping with the mentality of Foley, the man who was for so long the beating heart of the side.
Kick-off in the Parc des Princes on Saturday, January 7th, is 3:45pm Irish time.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena