Anthony Foley’s sudden death unites rugby in mourning

Exeter Chiefs and ASM Clermont Auvergne hold a minute silence for Anthony Foley - Anthony Foley's sudden death unites rugby in mourning

Exeter Chiefs and ASM Clermont Auvergne hold a minute silence for Anthony Foley – Anthony Foley’s sudden death unites rugby in mourning , Tributes have poured in for Munster head coach Anthony Foley who died, aged 42 CREDIT: PA

Tributes from across the world of rugby have been paid to Anthony Foley, the Munster head coach and former Ireland international, who died in Paris before his club’s Champions Cup match against Racing 92 on Sunday. He was 42.

It is understood that Foley was found dead in the team’s hotel yesterday morning after he failed to appear at a team meeting at 9am before Munster’s Champions’ Cup opener in the French capital.

The cause of death was unknown last night but it is thought that the French judiciary police may request a post-mortem examination, which could last up to seven days, after which the remains are released to the family for burial.

Anthony Foley overseeing a Munster training session - Anthony Foley's sudden death unites rugby in mourning

The Munster head coach died in Paris before his club’s Champions Cup match against Racing 92 CREDIT: REX FEATURES

The Irish Embassy were yesterday providing consular assistance to Foley’s family, whose father Brendan, who also played for Munster and 11 times for Ireland, was in Paris for the match.

Foley’s father was part of the famous Munster side who defeated New Zealand in 1978, while one of his sisters, Rosie, also played international rugby for Ireland Women.

European Professional Club Rugby, the tournament organiser’s postponed the match out of respect for the former No8, who played for Ireland 62 times, captaining his country on three occasions.

He also led Munster to their first European Cup victory in 2006.

In all, the Limerick man made 86 appearances in European competition for his province before taking over as head coach in 2014.

Anthony Foley lifting the European Cup - Anthony Foley's sudden death unites rugby in mourning

Foley led Munster to their first European Cup victory in 2006CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Munster supporters, who had travelled to the Paris for the match, stood for hours outside the Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir to pay their respects to Foley, affectionately known as ‘Axel’, who was hailed yesterday as one of Ireland’s greatest sportsmen.

A scarf, wreath and cap were left on the centre of the empty pitch, while hundreds of supporters held an impromptu minute’s silence before signing a rendition of The Fields of Athenry, Munster’s anthem. There were applause and cheers too.

“It’s in the values of rugby to respect the opponent when he has a bad break,” said Jacky Lorenzetti, the president of Racing. “And it’s also in the values of rugby to be brave. So we are going to try to be brave together.”

Limerick council also confirmed that Irish flags will be flown at half mast outside council building in Limerick today as a mark of respect to one the city’s greatest sons.

Irish President Michael D Higgins extended his sympathies to Foley’s family, including wife Olive and two sons Dan and Tony.

Munster fans place tributes outside Thomond Park - Anthony Foley's sudden death unites rugby in mourning

Munster fans place tributes outside Thomond Park CREDIT: PA

Just last weekend Foley had been pictured celebrating his former Munster and Ireland team-mate Mick Galwey’s 50th birthday party in Kilkenny.

“Anthony Foley excelled from a young age and made a huge contribution to the successes of Munster and Ireland, in both his playing and coaching careers,” Higgins said.

“He was regarded with great respect and deep affection not just among the Munster rugby fans but by all those interested in Irish sports and those with whom they interacted abroad.

“While news of his death will be received with shock by all those in the rugby and sports world, it is of course first and foremost a great tragedy for his family and close friends.”

Eddie O’Sullivan, the former Ireland head coach who gave Foley most of his caps for his country, said his former No8 had an “incredible rugby brain.” “It’s hard to get your head around it,” said O’Sullivan. “Words don’t come easily on an occasion like this.

“He wasn’t the biggest No8 in world rugby, he wasn’t the most phenomenal athlete but he had an incredible rugby brain.

“He had this intrinsic understanding of the nuances of the game, he knew when to run, when to pass… He knew what was most important based on the score, based on the time on the clock.”

Foley first came to prominence for Munster club Shannon during their dominance of the All-Ireland League, winning four titles in a row from 1995 to 1998 before becoming a bedrock of both Munster and Ireland for the next decade.

Anthony Foley scores a try during the Six Nations rugby union match between France and Ireland in 2004 - Anthony Foley's sudden death unites rugby in mourning

Foley played for Ireland 62 times, captaining his country on three occasions CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Foley scored 39 tries for Munster in over 200 appearances, while his total of 22 in the Champions Cup is still the record for the Irish province.

He also scored five tries for Ireland, including on his debut against England at Lansdowne Road in 1995.

The Rugby Football Union, Scottish Rugby Union and Welsh Rugby Union all paid tribute to Foley on their social media accounts.

Sir Clive Woodward, England’s 2003 World Cup-winning coach wrote: “Shocked & so sad to hear about death of Anthony Foley. A true legend & a man who had total respect of teammates & opposition.”

Former Australia outside-half Michael Lynagh said: “Just received the news of Anthony Foley passing. I am shocked and saddened. He was a great rugby man; but most importantly a great person.

The Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald described him as a “true rugby great.” “Anthony was the embodiment of Munster Rugby and dedicated his life to the game he loved,” he added.

“Never a man to back down from a challenge, Anthony’s determination on the field was mirrored by his actions off it, always honest in everything he did. His legacy will live on in the next generation and beyond.”


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