Munster stand up and fight for Foley

European Rugby Champions Cup

Munster 37 -17 Glasgow Warriors

Munster returned to action with an emotional 38-17 win over Glasgow at Thomond Park today.

The game started with some beautiful tributes for Munster head coach Anthony Foley who died in Paris last weekend, hours before the Irish province’s scheduled Champions Cup opener against Racing 92, which was subsequently postponed.

The emotion inside the stadium was clear from the start but it boiled over when Keith Earls was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Fraser Brown in the 20th minute. However, there was nothing that was going to stop Munster as they were inspired to a victory that honoured the memory of Foley.

Munster's Jaco Taute celebrates after scoring his try.
Munster’s Jaco Taute celebrates after scoring his try.

Munster scored five tries with Tyler Bleyendaal, Jaco Taute, Simon Zebo and Rory Scannell all going over while the pack got what they deserved when they were awarded a penalty try after putting Glasgow under extreme pressure.

Bleyendaal added the four conversions and a penalty with Ian Keatley adding a conversion of his own. Glasgow scored through a Pat MacArthur and Mark Bennett try – both converted by Stuart Hogg, while Finn Russell added a penalty.

A sell-out 26,500 crowd watched Munster open their European campaign in tearful circumstances, just a day after Foley was laid to rest in his home town of Killaloe, County Clare.

The outpouring of grief continued at Thomond, where special tributes were paid before the lunchtime kick-off, including renditions of ‘There is an Isle’ and ‘Stand Up and Fight’ – the rousing songs of Foley’s beloved Shannon RFC and Munster – an impeccably observed minute’s silence and the West Stand supporters holding up cards to poignantly display his nickname ‘Axel’ and shirt number, ‘8’.

Munster's Simon Zebo sheds a tear as he stands alongside captain Peter O'Mahony.
Munster’s Simon Zebo sheds a tear as he stands alongside captain Peter O’Mahony.

Munster retired Foley’s number eight jersey for the game and had his nickname proudly displayed below their crests. It was fly-half and man of the match Bleyendaal who struck the first blow, breaking onto Earls’ offload, weaving through from outside the 22 and using his momentum to touch down wide on the left with just three minutes gone.

Bleyendaal converted and also added the extras to Taute’s 13th-minute score in the same corner, combining with Scannell to send the South African over after an initial turnover from CJ Stander and strong carries from the equally fired-up Dave Kilcoyne and Tommy O’Donnell.

The complexion of this round-two fixture changed with Earls’ 18th-minute dismissal, the winger guilty of being over-zealous in lifting Fraser Brown’s leg in the tackle and dumping him on his shoulders. French referee Jerome Garces, having consulted with TMO Arnaud Blondel, reached for his red card.

However, Finn Russell was unable to add his earlier penalty success and Bleyendaal rewarded a monster Munster scrum at the other end for 17-3. The points kept coming for the hosts, centre Scannell’s defence-splitting break leading to Zebo wriggling over after Stuart Hogg was adjudged not to have completed a tackle on his opposite number.

Bleyendaal swept over another superb conversion from out wide, with the energy and defensive solidity of the home pack ensuring Glasgow failed to respond before half-time.

The Warriors had looked a shadow of the side that thumped Leicester 42-13 last week, but their replacement prop Alex Allan did well to get his body in the way and prevent a Conor Murray try on the restart.

Allan and fellow replacement Sila Puafisi could do little, though, as the Warriors leaked three successive scrum penalties in scoring range and Garces duly awarded Munster a 46th-minute penalty try and their bonus point.

Thomond Park pays tribute to Anthony 'Axel' Foley.
Thomond Park pays tribute to Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley.

An over-cooked kick from Russell and further control from the Munster forwards saw the hosts keep an iron grip on proceedings. Entering the final quarter, Glasgow finally created a try-scoring chance for possession-starved winger Rory Hughes but he was bundled into touch by Zebo and Darren Sweetnam.

The visitors did manage to cross the whitewash with a quarter of an hour remaining, a well-set lineout maul allowing replacement hooker MacArthur to crash over and full-back Hogg converted.

As expected, tiredness crept in for Munster. Cramp left them down to 13 men at one stage and Glasgow quickly turned defence into attack, replacement Bennett straightening up to go over on the left after Sweetnam’s initial try-saving tackle.

However, with six minutes to go, Murray teed up Scannell on the blindside to goover for Munster’s fifth try in the left corner. Replacement Ian Keatley successfully converted and the home support soon rose to sing ‘The Fields of Athenry’ in acknowledgement of a pulsating collective performance from the players – one which had Foley’s imprint all over it.

After the final whistle the Munster players were joined by Foley’s two sons Tony and Dan as the squad sang ‘Stand up and fight’ one last time. It was a fitting end to a truly emotionally-charged day that epitomised everything that is good about Munster rugby and their followers.


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