Shocked Wallabies mentor Michael Cheika has paid tribute to Munster head coach Anthony Foley who died in his team’s Paris hotel.
The 42-year-old Foley died at the weekend, leaving a wife and two children and plunging Irish rugby into mourning.
He was in Paris for Irish club Munster’s European Champions Cup clash with French side Racing 92 which was later postponed.
No details about the cause of death have been made public.
Capped 62 times, Foley was a former captain of Munster and Cheika coached against him when was in charge of their great Irish provincial rivals Leinster from 2005-10.
“I would be lying if I didn’t admit that swirled around in my head all morning when you wake up to news like that,” said Cheika in Sydney on Monday.
“It’s hard to believe to be honest. He’s a guy who, as a coach and he was Munster captain, I competed heavily against.
“And when you compete against someone and earn respect for them from competition it shows that there’s a special person behind that.
“It’s really tragic and our thoughts are with the Munster rugby family and all of Irish rugby
“He was captain of Ireland as well for a while and a well capped player and a real institution over there.
“As a colleague as well, a head coach for a team, it’s really sad.”
The death of Foley, described as “the heart and soul” of Munster, hit Irish rugby hard and brought forth a string of other tributes.
“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 from the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) on Sunday.
Ireland’s president Michael D. Higgins led the tributes to the former international, saying: “Anthony Foley excelled from a young age and made a huge contribution to the successes of Munster and Ireland, in both his playing and coaching careers.
“As President of Ireland, and as Patron of the IRFU, I offer them and Munster rugby my deepest sympathies.”
Munster fans who had travelled over for the game in Paris gathered outside the Stade Yves-du-Manoir and gave a mournful, muted rendition of The Fields of Athenry, a folk song regularly sung by Irish fans at sporting events.
Foley, a powerful back-row forward, will be best remembered for captaining Munster to their first Heineken Cup final triumph in 2006, a victory that ended their quest for success in Europe.
“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 said.