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Foley's family 'touched' by Irish squad tribute

Published 06/11/2016

Anthony Foley was Munster's head coach
Anthony Foley was Munster's head coach

The family of Anthony Foley have revealed how moved they were by an emotional tribute to the late rugby star ahead of Ireland's historic drubbing of the All Blacks.

In a poignant scene just before the kick-off in Chicago, the Irish squad formed a figure of eight - Foley's number - as they faced down the famously intimidating New Zealand Haka.

Setting the mood for a defiant performance, Ireland went on to stun the rugby world and end a 111-year wait for a win over the world champions.

Beating them decisively 40-29, the scoreline was also an exact reversal of the result the last time Foley played against them.

"To say that we were touched by how Ireland faced the New Zealand Haka, drawing inspiration from the No. 8, would be an understatement," said Foley's family on a Facebook page set up in memory of the coach, warmly known as "Axel."

"Ironically, 15 years ago Anthony played for Ireland against and lost to New Zealand on a score of......40-29.

"Last night's Irish response to the Haka was incredible remembrance."

Foley, Munster's head coach, died suddenly in Paris last month, hours before the Irish province's scheduled Champions Cup opener against Racing 92, which was subsequently postponed.

The 42-year-old had won 63 caps for Ireland and spearheaded Munster's rise to the top of the European game, as the Thomond Park province won two Heineken Cup titles.

In Chicago, proud flanker CJ Stander admitted he could never have helped Ireland to the unforgettable defeat over New Zealand without his rugby "rock" Foley.

Stander fronted the figure-of-eight tribute formation alongside Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo at Soldier Field.

"We made a figure of eight; for me personally, Murray and all the Munster boys to stand at the front, that was big," he said.

"He meant so much to me, he was really the rock in my rugby the last four years.

"He showed me a lot about what he'd learned over the years. I think he pushed me to the next level."

Stander added: "Everything we gave was for him. So this match was for Axel."

Ireland's first win over New Zealand - at the 29th attempt - came courtesy of tries from Stander, Murray, Zebo, Jordi Murphy and Robbie Henshaw.

US Vice President Joe Biden, Harry Potter author JK Rowling, Irish President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny were among a torrent of rugby fans who took to Twitter to heap praise on the Irish team.

"Congrats to cousin @KearneyRob on behalf of the Bidens. @IrishRugby's 1st win over New Zealand in 111 years. History made again in Chicago," said Biden.

Rowling posted: "I take back (nearly) everything I said about 2016! Congratulations @IrishRugby!"

Golfer Shane Lowry tweeted: "I'm actually sick saying it. But we're some little country."

One Direction pop star Niall Horan wrote:"Cannot believe that just happened .. congratulations Ireland . What a performance! Been a long time coming."

World Cup-winning former England rugby union coach Sir Clive Woodward described Ireland's performance as: "Brilliant, totally brilliant."

Ireland will now host Canada in Dublin on Saturday as November's autumn internationals return to more accustomed settings.

Joe Schmidt's men then face New Zealand again at the Aviva Stadium on November 19.

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