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Surprise At Foley's Omission
11 November 2005, 9:06 am
There was widespread surprise among the assembled media in City West yesterday when word filtered out that Anthony Foley had been dropped from the Irish squad.
Long before Eddie O'Sullivan arrrived back from Clongowes Wood College where he had conducted the morning training session, word had spread among the journalists assembled for the team announcement that Anthony Foley had been dropped from the team for Saturday's clash with the All Blacks.

It had been expected that Foley, in the absence of Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell, would captain the side and indeed O'Sullivan confirmed that this would have been the case had Simon Easterby not been deemed fit to play. However, there was further puzzlement when it then emerged that Foley wasn't even named among the replacements.

Explaining the rationale O'Sullivan said, "We waited until the last minute today because we had to get medical clearance. Yesterday he (Easterby) had a scan which showed everything was ok. The specialist gave the all clear last night. He s just come though a full session so he s good to go. He s been passed fit to play."

When asked what would have happened if Simon Easterby hadn't been passed fit, O'Sullivan said. "I think Anthony Foley would have come in. Anthony has been excellent again this season. Very unfortunate again not to be on the team or in the 22. He s playing really well and yes, had Simon not made it, Anthony would have been in there for his experience and he would have captained the side."

Good enough to captain the side but not good enough for the bench ? O'Sullivan explained with one word. . "Balance". before briefly giving an unconvincing elaboration. "Back-row balance. Cover regarding line-out options and reshuffling the back-row if we have injuries. It's more or less a combination than anything else".

There will be some consolation for Foley in that it's a Munster colleague, Denis Leamy, who will wear the number 8 shirt although it's a position 23 year old Leamy, winning his 4th cap, is unfamiliar with. That should not present a problem as O'Sullivan explained,

"I appreciate that Denis doesn t often play eight. It s not something I m concerned about. I think he s a very good footballer, He ll be eight in the scrum but other than the scrums he s going to play his normal position and I think we ve seen this happen in other back-rows in world rugby. George Smith for example for Australia, so I think Denis is well capable of making the same adjustment. He s an exceptionally good footballer. So I don t have any concerns in that quarter".

Leamy has played most of his professional career at six or seven although he was selected at number eight for Munster in the Celtic League game against Glasgow Warriors in September.

Speaking about his new captain O'Sullivan said, " Simon s been around the squad for a while. Since 2000 he's been a permanent fixture most of the time bar when he s been injured. He s a slightly different leader than some of the other players. Very quiet guy. He s held in huge respect, in great esteem among the squad and he leads by example. Again he s the kinda guy that under pressure, doesn t panic doesn t lose his head. I know for a fact that once he speaks guys listen to what he has to say.

" So y know, in the context of this game in particular, having somebody with his experience and knowledge and his capacity to read the game well when we have some young players in the squad now around him I think it s very important. He s there and he s the right man for the job. So I don t have any concerns about him captaining the team. I was quite happy to offer the role and he was very happy to accept it.

"The worry obviously was would he make it through he was 50/50 all week but the good news now is that he s in there".

It had to be the closest call and Simon Easterby would appreciate that more than most.

There can be no quibble either with the LLanelli man's selection or in the circumstances, his role as skipper.

But when the coach talks about a player who is very quiet, commands huge respect, is held in great esteem, who under pressure, doesn't panic, doesn't lose the head, leads by example, then he could be talking about Anthony Foley.

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