Champions Cup Preview: Ulster need a crucial win as Munster prepare to honour Anthony Foley

Both teams have home games on Saturday

Champions Cup Preview: Ulster need a crucial win as Munster prepare to honour Anthony Foley

Charles Piutau Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Presseye/Jonathan Porter

Saturday afternoon sees Munster try and pick up the pieces of an earth-shattering week following Anthony Foley's death, as Glasgow Warriors arrive in Limerick for their Champions Cup clash at 1pm.

On Wednesday afternoon, Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus hinted at the fact that the game may be the last time Munster play for some weeks.

"We don't want to get this opportunity and miss it. If we don't play this weekend, it might be a while before we play again. We don't want to miss this opportunity for him. It's a tough choice, but easy in a way."

For all of the emotion that will be focused around the clash with Glasgow Warriors, the team will want to win in Europe in honour of the man who captained them to their first Heineken Cup title.

Before the events of last weekend, the games against Glasgow would have been earmarked as Munster's best chance to get points on the board. Despite all that has happened, that still remains the focus when the teams take to the pitch.

Winning or losing this weekend doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, of course. The 23-man squad will come together to honour the man who coached them on a daily basis. It is impossible to predict how they will react to such a devastating blow.

Speaking to Newstalk, Rory Best noted that when Ulster lost Nevin Spence, they had to go through a similar process to try and return to normal. 

"The build-up to it will be the really tough bit. That's what we found in the first game leading back [after the passing of Nevin Spence]. You get out on the pitch, and you do what Axel did best. You do what he would want you to do, which is to go out and play [...] The fact that they're together in red will do his memory justice."

Erasmus added on Wednesday, that whatever happens this week, it's all about honouring the Killaloe native, less than 24 hours after his funeral mass. 

The result will be irrelevant, but it's a chance to begin the long healing process for player and fans alike. 

 

Tributes to Munster head coach Anthony Foley outside Thomond Park. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

The news of Foley's death became known on Sunday afternoon as Ulster were playing Bordeaux in their Champions Cup opener.

Ulster led that game by seven points at half-time, with the scoreboard reading 10-3. A second-half collapse saw the team concede 19 unanswered points however, as Bordeaux-Begles scored two tries. 

Home form will be crucial to Ulster if they are to advance to the quarter-finals, and that begins on Saturday evening against Exeter Chiefs in the Kingspan Stadium.

Since the tournament was restructured, Ulster have failed to reach the knockout stages, making it only as far as quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup in 2014 before losing to Saracens.

After missing the game in France with injury, Charles Piutau will make his European debut for the province. Last season he starred for Wasps in the Challenge Cup, and if he performs to that level once more, Ulster could reach the knockout stages.

It's quite simply a must-win game for Ulster, but they too will be grieving with the rest of the rugby world this weekend.