Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend has joined the rugby world in paying tribute to Anthony Foley, the head coach of Irish side Munster who died suddenly yesterday aged 42.
Foley, a former Ireland back-row and a Munster great, was found dead in the province’s team hotel in Paris just hours before their opening European Champions Cup clash against Racing 92.
The Pool 1 match was immediately postponed but Foley’s death was marked by a touching tribute at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir where a scarf, wreath and cap were left on the centre of the empty pitch.
Outside the stadium in Colombes, hundreds of Munster fans who had travelled to Paris joined French supporters to mark “Axel” Foley’s passing with an impromptu minute’s silence and a rendition of The Fields of Athenry.
Munster fans also queued to leave messages of condolences on a makeshift memorial at the ground, while back home in Limerick supporters left jerseys, flowers, scarves and hats at the team’s Thomond Park.
Glasgow are also in Pool 1 of the European Champions Cup and are scheduled to play Munster in Limerick on Friday. Last night it was unclear whether the match will go ahead as planned.
If this weekend’s fixture is called off, then it would be the second European campaign in succession that a Glasgow game has been held over in tragic circumstances. Less than a year ago their encounter with Racing 92 was cancelled at a few hours’ notice in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris that killed 132 people.
“It is a sad day for rugby,” tweeted Townsend, who will leave his role as Glasgow coach to take charge of Scotland at the end of the season. “Axel was a hugely influential figure in the game. A good man has gone too soon.”
The tributes flooded in for Foley as the rugby community tried to come to terms with the sudden death of such a respected figure. Former Glasgow and Scotland captain Andy Nicol said: “The passing of Axel Foley has floored me.
“I attended his testimonial dinner a few years ago and played golf with him the next day. He was a top man!”
Jonny Petrie, the Edinburgh managing director and another ex-Glasgow skipper, added: “It is horrible, horrible news. My thoughts go to all connected with Munster. Anthony was a great opponent and someone who has gone too soon from our rugby family.”
A spokesman for the SRU stated: “Everyone at Scottish
Rugby passes on their
condolences to the Munster colleagues and family of Anthony Foley at this very sad time.”
Former Scotland utility back Michael Dods said: “Anthony was a great player, ambassador and gentleman. I am shocked to hear the news.”
Foley, a back-row and fan favourite No 8, was a record-breaking try scorer in his days in the red Munster jersey.
He followed his father Brendan’s footsteps and ultimately emulated his legendary on-pitch success.
Foley played for Ireland 62 times, scoring a try against England on his debut in 1995 in the Five Nations, as it was then.
He also led Munster to their first European Cup victory in 2006 after years of heartbreak in top-flight competition. Two years later he was central to the province’s repeat success with many stirring and passionate performances.
Foley scored 39 tries for his province and made 86 appearances in European competition before taking on backroom roles from 2009 and being named head coach in 2014.
He is survived by his wife Olive and their children.
Munster Rugby chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald said Foley was a true rugby great and the embodiment of Munster Rugby.
“Widely known for his extensive knowledge of the game and rugby brain, Axel brought so much to the province as a player and then a coach,” he said. A very popular figure off the field, he was an incredibly likeable character with a great sense of humour and he lived life to the full.”
Fitzgerald 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.”
Foley was from Killaloe in County Clare. He played for St Munchin’s and Shannon in his early years but was destined for Munster red and to follow his father Brendan who was part of the team that defeated the All Blacks in 1978.
Munster Rugby added: “It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to our coach, former captain, colleague and friend today, rest in peace Anthony Foley.”
Foley was roundly praised for his ability to read the game in his role as a No 8, his intelligence on the field and his understated attitude.
“Can’t quite believe it,” tweeted former Ireland centre Brian O’Driscoll. “So incredibly sad. My thoughts are with Olive, his boys & and his extended family.”