ANTHONY Foley is now the long odds-on favourite to become Munster Rugby’s next head coach.
Former Munster number eight Foley, the province’s forwards coach, is strongly tipped to succeed the departing Rob Penney in the top job.
Foley was also the bookies’ favourite to succeed Tony McGahan two years ago, but lost out to Kiwi Penney.
However, with two further years coaching experience under his belt, Foley now appears in pole position to replace Penney, who is expected to move to a coaching post in Japan on a three-year deal this summer.
Former Munster out-half Ronan O’Gara has already ruled himself out of the race to succeed Penney, while Eddie O’Sullivan said he was undecided about whether to apply for the post as he didn’t get an interview after applying for the vacancy two years ago.
Members of the media were informed prior to the start of Munster’s post-match press conference following Saturday night’s runaway PRO12 win over Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park that Penney would not be taking questions relating to his departure from Munster this summer.
Munster’s backs coach Simon Mannix is also set to leave the province at the end of the season, with current skills coach Ian Costello tipped to replace him.
Munster number eight James Coughlan said the players had no idea who would replace Penney, but agreed there was a ‘massive amount of respect’ for Foley within the dressing room when pressed about the Shannon clubman’s claims.
Coughlan said: “I really don’t know who is going to come in. Axel’s (Anthony Foley) record speaks for itself. I don’t need to be talking about what he has done. He has worked with a lot of coaches. He has had a lot of experience now as a coach as well as a player.
“The lads in the dressing room have a massive amount of respect for Axel. A lot of us would have played with him. He has brought a great focus on our defence. We are very stingy in our defence.
“If Axel gets it, then that’s great. If someone else comes in then that’s great as well. The players focus is on improving on a week to week basis and making sure that whoever is in charge next season that you are talking with him, looking for info on what he is looking from you as a player and the ways you can improve from week to week. We are competitive animals, so whoever comes in, we will be looking to show that we can work under whatever system they decide to bring in.”
Coughlan said Penney and Mannix had made an ‘incredible contribution’ since their arrival at Munster at the start of last season.
Coughlan said: “Naturally we were all a bit surprised and disappointed to hear Rob (Penney) and Simon (Mannix) were leaving us. Their contribution to Munster has been incredible. They have changed maybe the way we have played.
“We are top of the PRO12 League now and we are looking forward to a home quarter-final in the Heineken Cup against Toulouse. It is always a big call for Rob, but he has to do what is right for him. We all respect that.
“The only thing we can do now is keep going and make sure we send them off with silverware. We laid down a good marker for ourselves tonight (against Cardiff) and we will be hoping to kick it on from here.
“We had a meeting on Thursday and Rob and Simon spoke to us. Unfortunately, that is the job. People are only on X and Y contracts. People move on. We are all big fans of Rob, obviously. He has made a big impact on a lot of our careers. We are extremely grateful for the impact they made.
“We want to be sending them off with silverware and putting our hands up for whoever comes in at the end of the season so you are putting your best foot forward for whoever it is.”