As he reflected on his first European victory as Munster head coach, Anthony Foley discussed the crucial contribution of Ian Keatley and the calm and measured changes that saw his side emerge as a different force for the second 40 minutes against Sale Sharks.
Given the immense challenge of qualification from a European Champions Cup pool that features three of last season’s Heineken Cup semi-finalists, a win was seen as a must for both sides at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday.
Into injury-time, and with Munster being driven back towards their own half, a losing bonus point seemed the most likely outcome for Anthony Foley’s charges. However, the Munster pack did well to retain possession and present Ian Keatley with the platform from which he kicked the province to the sweetest of victories.
With a wave of euphoria descending upon Munster supporters in the stands, Foley described his feeling of ‘relief’ in the coach’s box.
“Relief that our hard work in the second half had paid dividends. Our guys stayed patient and kept going forward with the ball,” he said.
“Even when ‘Keats’ decided the drop goal wasn’t on the first time, the boys were able to put him back in a situation where he thought he could have a crack and I thought he struck it sweetly.
“I didn’t really see the finish of it,” he admitted, with a laugh. “But it was good, you know.”
The Munster boss expanded on the contribution of out-half Keatley, adding: “From our point of view it was the difference between winning and losing the game. His return from the boot was so important, I thought he showed great composure at times and ” thought he was very good defensively.
“He’s growing all the time into that number 10 jersey, it is a big shirt to wear and it was great to see him pull out a performance like that away from home.”
Coming back from a 23-7 deficit, just what exactly was said at half-time to transform Munster’s performance in the second half?
“We had spoken about the referee (Mathieu Raynal) during the week and I know he went off early but his replacement had the same mentality as him in terms of – if you’re in possession you keep the ball and he’ll penalise the opposition. Of all the penalties in the game I think one was against the side in attack.
“There was a big wind there as well which kept us turned, so to be honest we were quite happy to go into the break with that scoreline. It could have been much worse.
“We stopped giving away those penalties in the second half. We gained possession and territory and that allowed us apply pressure on the opposition. It can be as simple as that at times. That’s what we said at half-time and I think the lads went out and executed it quite well.”
Both as a player and in his previous backroom duties with the province, Foley has witnessed many historic Munster comebacks and victories. So how does this one compare?
“This performance is different, it’s unique to this group of players, it’s what they’ve done away from home. It might sound a bit rude but sometimes it’s easier to do these things at home.
“I think last year we got a last-minute try against Perpignan over there and we’ve done a few Houdini acts alright, but it’s a credit to the team that they stay at it, stay patient on the ball and that they believe to the end.
“That’s the great thing about the characters that we’re developing and the characters that have already been developed from years of playing here. That psyche is handed down to another generation of player.”
Munster return to Thomond Park this Friday night when they welcome Pool 1 rivals Saracens in round 2 of the European Champions Cup (kick-off 7.45pm). Tickets, from €;20, can be purchased online by clicking here.