Munster have successfully secured Champions’ Cup qualification thanks to a resounding victory over the Scarlets (Saturday 7 May 2016). The Limerick men have endured a season as traumatic as any in living memory, but at last there is a glimmer of hope and optimism for the two-time European Champions. This weekend’s victory guarantees European rugby for the Thomond Park side next season, thereby providing some respite for their somewhat beleaguered head coach. Make no mistake about it. This victory was essential. It was inconceivable that Munster would miss out on Europe, but Foley’s outfit has scraped in by the skin of its teeth thanks to a 31-15 victory over the Welsh region.
It has been a tough old grind for Foley of late following his de facto demotion arising from the appointment of Johan “Rassie” Erasmus as Director of Rugby for next season and beyond. While Erasmus’s appointment has been welcomed as the superb piece of business it undoubtedly is, the announcement has also raised questions about Foley’s role within the management team. As has been widely reported, Erasmus will assume the selection and recruitment reins from next season, and his introduction to the Munster set-up unquestionably alters the dynamic in relation to Foley’s interaction with his playing squad. Up to this point in his tenure, Foley has been very much the main man but the incoming Director of Rugby will inevitably have ideas of his own.
The former Munster skipper confirmed, prior to Erasmus’s appointment, that he will remain within the management team for another season at the very least. However, Foley’s role has become harder to define following the appointment of the esteemed former Springbok back rower. One can only assume that precise job descriptions and rules of engagement will be ironed out over the next few weeks once Foley eventually meets his new boss.
The Shannon icon is massively respected in Irish rugby circles. It has been a difficult and challenging season for the Munster coach, and one hopes that his future remit is defined to his satisfaction in the weeks ahead. Foley has served province and country with distinction and pride. He deserves to know where he stands, therefore. For now, Munster can breathe a collective sigh of relief now that European qualification has been secured and Champions Cup rugby guaranteed. No club has illuminated rugby’s premier club competition quite like the Thomond Park side and the competition would have been markedly poorer for their absence.
On a related note, Leinster, Connacht, and Ulster have all reached the Pro12 play-offs. Much has been made of a supposedly poor season for the provinces, and there is no doubt that this campaign has been far from vintage from an Irish perspective. While it remains to be seen if an Irish club can successfully land the Pro12 trophy, the league standings at the end of a demanding season prove that there’s no reason for fans to be unduly despondent. The demise of Irish rugby has been greatly exaggerated, and hope abounds that the future is bright. Relief and redemption for the Irish clubs at the climax of the Pro12, then. One suspects that Anthony Foley will feel that relief more than most.