Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has paid tribute to Munster coach Anthony Foley, after his sudden passing overnight, describing him as a ‘special person’.
Foley died suddenly in a Paris hotel on Sunday at the age of 42, triggering a flood of tributes from stunned former teammates, opponents and admirers of the rugby hardman.
Foley, a married father of two boys, was one of Irish rugby's most prominent figures whose father was also capped for his country.Cheika coached against the former Munster player and Irish captain during his time in Leinster and admitted he was still reeling from the news.
“I would be lying if I didn't admit that's swirled around in my head all morning, when you wake up to news like that,” he said.
“It's hard to believe, to be honest.
“He's a guy who I would've competed as a coach when he was Munster captain, competed heavily against and when you compete against someone and you earn respect for them from competition it shows that there's a special person behind that and it's really tragic.”
Cheika passed on the sympathy of his entire squad to the Munster and Irish rugby communities.
“Our thoughts are with the Munster rugby family and all of Irish rugby,” he said.
“He was captain of Ireland as well for a while, well-capped player and a real institution over there and...as a colleague as well, as head coach for a team, that's really sad.”
Wallabies skipper Stephen Moore echoed his coach’s sentiments, paying tribute to the mark that Foley made in Irish rugby, as Test captain and at provincial level with Munster.
It's a big shock,” he said.
“He's leaving behind a young family but also a tremendous legacy for what he did for rugby in Ireland and for Munster, so he'll be remembered fondly for that.”
In a tribute, the president of Ireland, Michael Higgins, dubbed Foley "one of the great figures of Irish sport in the modern era".
"It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to our coach, former captain, colleague and friend today, rest in peace Anthony Foley," Munster Rugby tweeted.
It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to our coach, former captain, colleague and friend today, rest in peace Anthony Foley.— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) October 16, 2016
The Irish province's European Champions Cup match against Racing 92, scheduled for Sunday in Paris, was postponed to a later date.
Munster fans who had travelled to Paris for the Racing match gathered outside the Stade Yves-du-Manoir in northwestern Paris, laying flowers on flags and breaking into spontaneous renditions of Munster's adopted hymn, 'The Fields of Athenry'.
As a robust backrow forward, Foley led Munster to European Cup victory in 2006 with victory over Biarritz in Cardiff and went on to win 62 caps for Ireland, captaining the national side on three occasions, his last appearance coming in 2005 after debuting 10 years earlier.
He played 86 European matches for Munster, including a record 71 consecutive games, and retired in 2008 as the club's most-capped player with
194 appearances for the provincial side.
He was named head coach of the Irish province in 2014 after having also coached the Munster 'A' team, the Ireland Wolfhounds and the Irish forwards on a temporary basis in 2012.
Incredibly moved by the tribute paid to Axel in Paris. Testament to all he achieved and how much he meant to fans pic.twitter.com/PaUAUdyYDJ— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) October 16, 2016
French police in the western suburb of Suresnes have opened an enquiry to confirm the cause of death of the forward affectionally known as 'Axel' after Eddie Murphy's character from the film Beverly Hills Cop.
"The IRFU (Ireland rugby union) and Munster Rugby pass on our deepest sympathies to all of Anthony's family and friends and ask for privacy for the family at this sad time," a joint statement said.
Organisers of the European Champions Cup confirmed the postponement of Munster's opener against Racing in Paris.
"Due to the tragic passing in Paris of Munster Rugby head coach and former captain, Anthony Foley, today's European Rugby Champions Cup Round 1 match between Racing 92 and Munster Rugby has been postponed and will be rescheduled," organisers European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said.
EPCR chairman Simon Halliday said: "On behalf of EPCR, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to Anthony's family and to everyone associated with Munster and Irish rugby.
"He was a magnificent player and a superb coach and he will be sorely missed."
Racing released a statement saying it accepted without reservation the postponement of the game.
Ireland President Higgins, a patron of the IRFU, praised Foley's "huge contribution to the successes of Munster and Ireland, in both his playing and coaching careers."
Frankie Sheahan, the former Ireland and Munster hooker, posted a recent photo of him and others celebrating ex-Ireland international Mick Galwey's birthday.
"Distraught at the tragic news of Anthony Foley, great friend, teammate & legend. Super form last weekend at Mick Galwey's 50th. Incomprehensible," he said.
Donal Lenihan, who made his debuts for both Munster and Ireland caps alongside Foley's father Brendan -- a member of the Munster side that beat the All Blacks in 1978, said: "Everybody's just been taken by shock."
Foley's sudden death brought a welter of reaction from the wider rugby family.
World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper tweeted: "Shocked by the tragic news of Anthony Foley.
"All at World Rugby send our heart-felt condolences and thoughts to family, friends and Munster."
"Unbelievably sad news. Thoughts and prayers with all Anthony's family, friends and colleagues. RIP," added the Welsh Rugby Union.
Glasgow Warriors coach and former Scotland international Gregor Townsend said it was a "sad day for rugby".