Johne Murphy: Anthony Foley's technical knowledge was as good as any that I have experienced in my career

Former Munster player pays tribute to Foley and looks ahead to an emotional match against Glasgow

Johne Murphy, Anthony Foley, Munster

Johne Murphy and Anthony Foley ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Last Sunday afternoon, on a beautiful Autumn day that was perfect for rugby, I sat in the Cafe Du Stade watching an old team-mate, Liam Toland, while he wrote a piece about his close friend and former playing colleague Anthony Foley.

It was an inescapably sorrowful and surreal experience, a moment that I never could have envisaged as I left my wife Kate and four-month old son AJ in the early hours, full of hope and great expectation. Hearing the sad news about Anthony was a hammer blow; one of life’s moments which instinctively draws you to family, those nearest and dearest to you.

As evidenced by the huge public response since the news broke, Sunday was a desperately sad day for the rugby community around the world. It was a day that shook everyone who has ever been lucky enough to wear that great red jersey right to their very core. But more importantly, it was and is such a terrible tragedy for the Foleys, who have been robbed of their husband, father, son and brother. I cannot imagine how sad it must be for them at the moment. My deepest of sympathies to Olive, Tony, Dan, and all the family. There has been a justified outpouring of sadness and sympathies and I hope that this cloak of strength, support and love surrounds them in the coming days and months.

Previewing this weekend’s Champions Cup game versus Glasgow Warriors has now become a heavy privilege. All the usual rules are harder to apply in terms of tactics, match strategy, playing style. Now, so much of it will be about the raw, genuine emotion and I want to try to do the whole picture justice, because in these circumstances, it deserves that.

So many people who knew the man behind the legend have spoken about a player that embodied what 'rugby intelligence' is. Having played under Axel for five years, I can testify, first hand, as to how strongly this carried through to his coaching. His technical knowledge was (the use of past tense jars me even now) as good as any that I have experienced in my career.

It is both eerily coincidental and entirely fitting that Axel - whenever we asked previously who the best coach in Pro12 was - would always choose Glasgow Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend. He respected Gregor and his rugby intelligence, a mutual appreciation between two of the game’s students trying to pass on that vision to the next generation. The evidence is plain in terms of what Gregor has achieved over the last number of years with Glasgow, in terms of the culture and performance standards he has created. Long gone are the days where you had them banked as two wins, with hopefully the bonus point at home, when the fixture list was announced. They are now a side that have a Pro12 in their trophy cabinet and are rightfully dining at the top table in European rugby. A team that if you don’t prepare to the highest of standards and pitch up with massive intensity, they’ll give you a proper hiding, exactly like they did to my old club Leicester Tigers last Friday night.

So what’s the secret to their success? Glasgow play with fantastic width, with a licence and commitment to play from anywhere. But not only that. They apply a huge amount of intelligence in how they play the game. Because of their recruitment, their coaching, their skill-set and on field leadership, they are quick to recognise and execute opportunities to shift their point of attack very quickly in games. Last Friday was a perfect example of this.

Much like Connacht, they can be accurate and lethal on the counter-attack. But in that game, they were noticeably ruthless in exploiting the poor Leicester fringe defence. In addition, they also had big ball carries but the difference was the injection of pace on pace, with back three players as consistent support runners around the ruck area, adding speed and precision.

Glasgow warriors head coach Gregor Townsend ©INPHO/James Crombie

For Munster this weekend, the biggest challenge on the pitch will be controlling the tempo of game, in what will be a uniquely intense and emotional occasion. As with any game against Glasgow, being absolutely foot perfect in the delivery of the basics, with a rock solid set-piece game, is essential. As Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said in his press conference, it is about the lads playing the way Axel wanted them to play.

Given the man, the player and the coach that he was, Axel would expect nothing less. And if there is any consolation to be taken from the tough days to come, it should be that, of all the places Axel himself would have wanted to be, if someone else had been taken from us in such tragic circumstances, would be in the thick of the action at Thomond this weekend.

It is not that alone it stands

Where all around is fresh and fair,

But because it is my native land,

And my home, my home is there.

But because it is my native land,

And my home, my home is there.

Ni bheidh a leithead ann aris