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Books of condolence open after sudden death of Munster coach Anthony Foley

Rugby fans and members of the public are paying personal tributes to former Ireland and Munster star Anthony Foley.

The 42-year-old head coach was found dead in the province's team hotel in Paris on Sunday, hours before the team were due to take to the pitch in the European Champions Cup.

As messages of sympathy flooded in from across the world of sport and further afield, books of condolence were being opened across Munster and Irish flags were lowered to half-mast.

From midday, the public can pay respects in council offices across Limerick, Clare, Cork, Kerry, Tipperary and Waterford and at Limerick University and Shannon Rugby Club.

A makeshift shrine was also formed at the gates of Thomond Park, home of Munster Rugby, where Foley had some of his finest performances.

"Axel" Foley, a back-row and fan favourite No 8, was a record-breaking try-scorer in his days in the red jersey.

He followed in his father Brendan's footsteps and ultimately emulated his on-pitch success.

Anthony Foley played for Ireland 62 times, scoring a try against England on his debut in 1995 in the Five Nations, as it was then.

He also led Munster to their first European Cup victory in 2006 after years of heartbreak in top flight competition. Within a couple of years he was central to the province's repeat success.

Foley scored 39 tries for his province and made 86 appearances in European competition before taking on backroom roles from 2009 and being named head coach in 2014.

He is survived by his wife, Olive, and their children.

Among the grief-stricken messages posted online in the wake of Foley's death were some from former Munster team-mates.

Record-breaking Ireland No 10 Ronan O'Gara wrote: "Alone on the couch with Jess. Heartbroken. We have lost an incredible man. Too sad to tweet further ... sleep well Axel. We love you. xxx."

Peter Stringer, the diminutive scrum-half who has a photo of him and Foley in their Ireland heyday, said: "Feeling numb and alone with only thoughts of this remarkable man. My protector on the field, I will miss you forever Axel."

Pat Whelan, chairman of the Six Nations, paid his tributes, saying: "My thoughts go out to Anthony's wife Olive and their two boys, his parents Brendan and Sheila, Munster Rugby, the IRFU and the wider rugby community. Anthony was the embodiment of rugby and its values. He will be a huge loss to everyone."

Six Nations chief executive John Feehan added: "This is a devastating loss for Anthony's family and the rugby community. Anthony will leave a lasting legacy for the sport in Ireland. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and with Munster Rugby."

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