Anthony Foley (nicknamed “Axel” after the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies) is a legendary Irish rugby player who, in addition to playing in 62 international test matches for Ireland, is also one of the all-time leading scorers for Munster Rugby, an Irish province team in the European division.
In 2006 Foley captained Munster to a heroic Heineken Cup win, the Super Bowl for European rugby. I caught up with Anthony two days before he reclines on his couch to watch his former teammates from Ireland take on the USA in the Rugby World Cup down in New Zealand.
TL: At the last Rugby World Cup in 2007, Ireland had loads of momentum going into the tournament, but ended up with a disappointing performance. Now, in 2011 Ireland enters the World Cup without that momentum, losing their previous 4 games, so how will they fair down in the mecca of international rugby?
AF: Ah, they’ll do well! Ireland has had a good run, they have had enough warm up matches, and physically their in good nick, just great shape. Now is when it really matters, now it’s all about winning! I just hope their confidence is not dented by those recent losses. It’s a great team, and all of Ireland knows we have good players. It’s the best team set we’ve sent to the Rugby World Cup. Deccy (Ireland’s head coach Declan Kidney) picked sides that could win!
TL: Where those warm up matches against Scotland, England, and France, all teams playing in the World Cup as well, similar to, say, pre-season or spring training games in American football, or baseball?
AF: Yes, right. Look, you want to win those games against Scotland, England, and France, especially the ones at home. It’s disappointing to lose, but it is all about preparation now. Preparation, and the team getting used to making decisions under game pressure. They’re ready!
TL: Ireland starts their World Cup on September 11th against the USA. Ireland is favoured to beat the Americans by at least 30 points. But will playing on the 11th bring in an additional element to the game?
AF: September 11th is a very emotional and poignant day, and the game will reflect that a bit. Recently, I heard that the most loss of life on that day was of Irish heritage, so the sympathy with America really hit home in Ireland. We know what it means for the Americans. But, in rugby, you can’t play on emotion for 80 minutes. Emotion will only get you so far. I’d imagine the USA will wear a black arm band, or so, maybe the Irish too.
TL: So how do you think the game will go down?
AF: I expect the American’s will come out very strong, going to give it good the first 30-40 minutes, but Ireland needs to get off to a good start as well and not have their confidence dented. This is a must win to start the World Cup, and worry about Australia later. They must win!
TL: The USA’s coach is Eddie O’Sullivan, the former coach of the Irish team and a man you played under who was forced out of the job 1 year into a 4 year contract. How is he preparing the Americans?
AF: Eddie has something to prove after the poor performance in the 2007 World Cup, and based on how he left the Irish team. He is a great coach, and will motivate the Americans well. And September 11th will be a motivating factor, but as I said, in rugby, you can only play on that emotion for so long.
TL: In Pool C it is Australia, Ireland, Italy, Russia and the USA. What are your predictions?
AF: Australia and Ireland will go to the quarter finals. I think USA can beat Russia. It would be a big victory for America to win a game in the World Cup, and they can do it against Russia.
TL: Lastly, America loves fast, tough, violent sports, but rugby is not even on the radar. What’s it like playing the American Eagles, and will the US ever become competitive on an international scale?
AF: The Americans are massively physical! Their let down is on the technical side. Only a handful of US players play for European teams where you must make decisions under pressure. However, the USA will become more of a force sooner rather than later. Based on rugby 7’s coming to the Olympics, and if the USA invests in the universities to promote rugby it won’t take them too long to become competitive. The Americans are physically dominant and the stock of available US athletes is frightening.
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