Munster head coach Anthony Foley, who held a unique place in the tradition and affections of the Irish province, has died overnight at the team’s hotel in Paris, the Irish Rugby Football Union said on Sunday.
Foley, who was described as “the heart and soul” of Munster rugby, was 42 years old and no details about the cause of death have been made public.
“It is with deep regret that the Irish Rugby Football Union and Munster Rugby must advise of the passing overnight of Munster Rugby head coach Anthony Foley, at the team hotel in Paris,” read a statement on the Irish Rugby federation website (www.irishrugby.ie).
Munster’s game against Racing 92 in the European Rugby Champions Cup in Paris has been rescheduled following a request from the province.
Foley, a powerful back-row forward, will be best remembered for captaining Munster to their first Heineken Cup final win in 2006, a victory that ended their quest for success in Europe.
No one knew better than Foley, whose father Brendan was part of the Munster team that famously defeated the All Blacks in 1978, how much that meant to the province, who had lost their two previous finals.
“He epitomises what Munster rugby is all about. It’s absolutely shocking. There’s nothing but shock in the air,” former Ireland international Donal Lenihan told state broadcaster RTE.
Capped 62 times for Ireland, Foley played in 202 games for Munster and was also a skilled player in the Irish sports of Gaelic football and hurling.
“He was steeped in Munster rugby, he was a skilful all-rounder but rugby was always going to be his first love,” Lenihan said. “He’s had an unbroken involvement with Munster from an early age.
“Everything he did was geared for the betterment of Munster rugby.”
Rugby commentator Tom McGurk told Independent.ie: “He was a great leader — he was the heart and soul of that Munster team. It’s absolutely shocking.
“A great great Munster rugby family — his father Brendan played for Ireland, his sister Rosie played for the Ireland women team.
“He went from captaincy to coaching of Munster. The whole rugby family of Ireland and across Europe is in mourning.”
Foley stood down as Munster captain in 2007 and retired at the end of the 2007-08 season. He was appointed Munster’s forwards coach at the end of the 2011 season, and then head coach in 2014.
A statement from Munster said: “Munster Rugby management are liaising directly with Anthony’s family and will provide them with any assistance and support required.”