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Wednesday 23 August 2017

ROB WARY OF FOLEY'S MEN

IT was around Christmas 2008 when Camp Ireland produced a legendary tale about Rob Kearney's willingness to stand alone.

He had the temerity to question the all-in attitude of the men from Munster when they wore the green jersey. It could have led to the Irish version of 'Fight Club'.

Instead, it led to a Grand Slam.

"It was obviously a big moment, but I think had we got the wooden spoon that season, I would have been the villain of Irish rugby, banished out never to play again," recalled Kearney, on the eve of yet another Leinster-Munster showdown.

"The fact that we won and slammed it was: 'Oh, something must have happened here'. That has maybe been over-talked a little bit, but it maybe was a big moment that aided the national team".

SLUG IT OUT

So, what exactly happened that day? Was Rona O'Gara involved? Did you slug it out with Marcus Horan?

"We went out into pods. ROG was taking our group and I didn't question the Munster guy's commitment to the national jersey, but just said there was something very different when they were playing for Munster than when they were playing for Ireland.

"Then, we went into the big group and ROG read out the findings of our study and Marcus said: 'Listen, I have to stop you there. There's a big elephant in the room and something is really wrong here'.

"To which there was a 10-second silence that felt like an eternity. So I had to back it up and say to the group what I had in the backs group.

"Did we come to blows? No. I wish it had come to blows because what was said was more awkward. I'd have preferred to have been in a fight!" he said with a smile.

Maybe with Ronan. Not with Marcus.

It is just another chapter from the epic story that is that of Leinster and Munster and itt was around about the time that the infamous Munster pack started to slide.

Now, coach Anthony Foley is taking his province back to basics, back to their traditional foundations, a style tailor-made for O'Gara and Horan.

"The way they played under (Rob) Penney is very different to how they're trying to play now under Axel (Anthony Foley).

"So that will take a while to implement that new game-plan," he said.

"They use Denis Hurley a huge amount on crash ball and they will do the same with (Andrew) Smith and they will try to exploit the ruck area with wingers coming off the nine".

The major problem with this view of the game is that it takes a dominant pack of forwards to make progress stealthily.

John Hayes, Jerry Flannery, Horan, Mick Galwey, Denis Leamy, David Wallace and Alan Quinlan are all gone. O'Gara too.

"They have to work with what they have there," said Kearney.

Paulie (O'Connell) is going well. CJ Stander has stepped up massively for them this season.

"Robin Copeland is a quality player when they have got go-forward ball. The pack is still pretty strong.

"They are competitive on the ball in the breakdown and that is the one area where we will have to step up our game. If we get quick ball we will be able to do a little bit of damage with it".

IMPRESSION

It would seem Foley the coach made a deeper impression on Kearney than Foley the player when he was employed as Ireland's Minister of Defence for the 2012 Six Nations.

"When I played with him, it was quiet. There wasn't much chats between me and him.

"Then, he came into the national set-up. I was a little bit older and he was a coach.

"I was pretty impressed with him, more impressed with him than I expected to be.

"I don't mean that in a negative way at all. He took our defence for that full season and I thought he was very good".

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