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Chieftain Foley honoured by emphatic Munster triumph

By David Kelly

How wretched that something so, so tragic could unveil something so, so beautiful.

Munster played for two inviolable components on Saturday: the club crest that they represent and the four-lettered name stitched beneath it in black that they remembered; but they played as one.

This was at once a forlorn keening for times past and a clarion call to arms that a future Thomond kingdom might rise again in memoriam to its former chieftain.

"It was a tremendously inspiring occasion," noted the defeated opposition coach, Gregor Townsend. "The last two days have been really inspiring, for obviously terrible reasons, in order to make this come about."

For the locals, the spinetingling regret of such a stirring afternoon that resulted in a 38-17 victory, was that rarely, if ever, had Munster played with such fury and control and skill during Anthony Foley's brief reign as head coach. It is for the world like those times when death ends a relationship wherein the last words have been cross ones; the remorse can be substantial.

So it is that many feel this morning. Now Munster's greatest tribute to their departed mentor cannot merely be the belated explosion of poise and passion just for one Saturday, but for a host of Saturdays to come in the future.

"That was his frustration," says director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, the South African this week given a six-day crash course he would not have wanted to receive on Irishness, grief and all things Munster rugby. He has emerged a fine man.

"That was his biggest frustration, that he believed so much in the players and he knew what they can do and what they're capable of but sometimes they were not believing in themselves. That was his frustration.

"I think the players should take a lot of learning out of this. Myself, I take a lot of learning out of this and then if we have performances like that - we know we'll never get crowds as emotionally involved as they were on Saturday, because this was special.

"But players should realise the fans will be here if we play like that and the stadiums will be full and that's the way we can rebuild Munster to where it was."

Munster's commemoration to Foley was so deeply respectful; they knew they didn't dare proclaim they wanted to "win" this for him so they chose to represent the man and his teachings. And so it was that a game that many thought shouldn't have mattered ended up proclaiming meaning of much more profound impact than most of us thought possible.

"We would never say we want to win for Axel," added Erasmus. "We actually tried our best not to even think that way.

"Because you just think that for a hero and a legend and friend and a father and a buddy and a soulmate, and everything that he was for different people, to put your neck out there and say we're going to win for you? You can't put something on the line that's so important for somebody who has passed away, to say something stupid like that."

Nobody wanted this week to happen but now that it has, everything seems to have changed utterly.

Belfast Telegraph


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