Foden happy to play villain in Munster panto

There are two ways to treat a trip to Thomond Park: block out the Munster brand and the intimidation which goes with it. Or embrace and enjoy the "16th man" which is the crowd for big matches in Limerick. Even the All Blacks have been known to get the hurry-up there, but Northampton's England full-back, Ben Foden, thinks he's got it sussed. Going back there this week for his second visit of this season, Foden recalls being screamed at as "English scum" during his first visit with a lightness of spirit that silently adds "bring it on".

Northampton know they will be up against it in Saturday's quarter-final of the Heineken Cup; up against Munster's home advantage and history but also the enduringly odd and unbalanced factor in Europe that Irish provinces meet English clubs. It's the red jersey and "Irish by birth, Munster by the grace of God" versus the small-town fervour of the Saints and their loyal disciples. But results-wise this season they are dead level.

They met twice in the pool stage, with Saints winning narrowly at home, then earning a bonus point from a 12-9 defeat at Thomond to secure a return trip to Limerick in the last eight.

"Everyone talks about the 16th man being the crowd," says Foden, the 24-year-old whose first start for England was in similarly hostile surroundings in France two weeks ago, "and you go to Thomond Park and realise that's definitely what it is. As soon as any knock-ons or infringements come from you, the boos and hisses go up and influence the referee to blow his whistle a bit quicker.

"Or they're quiet when their team do a little bit of cheating and manage to get away with it because the referee doesn't want to annoy them."

Saturday's whistler will be Wales's Nigel Owens, who wrote in his autobiography about how much he enjoys Thomond Park. Well, he never had to catch a high ball there in the first minute. And talking of The Saturdays, that is a source of added "stick" for Foden: his girlfriend Una Healy, from the pop band, is a lady of solid Tipperary stock.

"I could hear the heckling while I was warming up," Foden recalls. "It was 'stop stealing our Irish girls' and 'English scum' and stuff like that. And I smile and they cheer and it's all good banter. I enjoy that intimidation, I relish the opportunity to score a try and put my hand to my ear and say: 'Who's shouting now?' It's what they want to see, a pantomime, having a hero and villain." He adds, with impressive optimism, that Una's mum and dad have been won round to supporting the Saints, but her sister Deirdre remains unpersuaded.

Almost everywhere on the pitch Munster have established stars knocking heads with Northampton's emerging team: Paul O'Connell versus Juandre Kruger; Doug Howlett v Chris Ashton; Jerry Flannery and John Hayes against Dylan Hartley and Soane Tonga'uiha. In the January match, Munster famously won a scrum against the head with O'Connell in the sin bin and Howlett in the pack; Northampton's coach, Jim Mallinder, says he was more annoyed by his team taking the subsequent line-out off the top instead of driving it. And this time, of course, it is win or bust.

"We'll benefit from having already been over there," says Mallinder. "Until you have gone through that ritual of leaving the hotel, and driving up to the ground, and running out for the first time for your warm-up, and being under the first high bomb – until you've actually experienced that, it's difficult.

"We're aware that we are taking on a brand, a whole area," he adds. "You really get that feeling that everyone is interested, from the staff at the hotel and the waitresses in the bars, they're all Munster through and through. We're not worried, we're excited about it."

Foden draws inspiration from having helped England push the Grand Slam champions all the way in Paris. "Everybody said France would play this lovely game and smash the English and win by 20 points. We could have run away with that game if we'd taken our chances. This week it's ruthless and cut-throat: you're either out or you're in. Hopefully Munster will underestimate us a bit."

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone