So the waiting is finally over, as this week it was officially announced that Ex Canterbury No 8 Rob Penney was appointed as the incoming Head Coach of Munster for the next two seasons at least.
I must admit I was somewhat surprised, not in Penney’s qualifications which seem very positive, but that a player in the very same position as Munsters Anthony Foley had got the nod.
I always believed that Foley could still do with some nurturing in-regards coaching, and I have seen too many promising young coaches of which Foley is one left on the scrapheap after taking a job on too early. However most felt including myself, that Foley would possibly be working under an ex or current international coach, and then quite feasibly a back.
So what of Penney? I played against Rob Penney for many years when we both played No 8 for our respective provinces, me at Otago and Rob at Canterbury.
Ironically I had started my rugby career with Canterbury before moving south to attend Otago University. As a player Penney is not unlike Foley in that he was a hard nosed, tough and honest player, so in that sense he will fit perfectly into the Munster ethos, where very much like Canterbury, Munster players know the value of the red jersey and know that they are in reality just keeping the famous colours ready for the next generation of Munster players.
Canterbury, possibly the elite province in world rugby? And multiple winners of the Super Series, National Championship and Ranfurly Shield are actually pretty much Munster’s equivalents in New Zealand. Players who play for famous South Island province are all taught that they are Canterbury men first, and like in Munster there is a refreshingly honest and loyal feel to Canterbury rugby, always has been.
Penney has embodied that, always plying is trade with the province first as a player for nearly a decade and then the transition to coach where he has been very successful in developing and nurturing young talent for the Crusaders franchise.
Penney was good enough to lead Canterbury to 4 National Championship Titles as head coach, often having to rebuild the team after some of his All Blacks came and went, he has also had to deal with and coach some of the world’s best players including the likes of Dan Carter and Ritchie McCaw.
Penney was promoted as a lineout coach and then an a assistant coach to the Canterbury Crusaders and just this year was regarded highly enough to be appointed the New Zealand under 20 side, a post he will fill before arriving in Munster.
The only problem for Penney is that he has been repeatedly overlooked for Super Franchises while similarly young Coaches like Jamie Joseph (Highlanders) Dave Rennie (Chiefs) Pat Lam (Blues) Mark Hammet (Hurricanes) have all grabbed the spots.
Penney has often been linked with these appointments, most recently for the underperforming Lam at the Auckland Blues but for some reason unbeknown to me or the faithful Cantabrians has failed at the last hurdle. Obviously some of the Munster think tank may ask why?
And that is a legimate question and one that will worry many, but that may be a little unfair on Penney, after all Leinsters Joe Schmidt arrived in Dublin on the back of a solid if nothing remarkable coaching career that included a spell in the Bay of Plenty, a New Zealand team certainly not regarded in Canterbury’s League.
Ulster’s new appointment is also certainly no better qualified than Penney, in fact Penny has achieved a lot more coaching wise than Mark Anscombe who actually had a period with Old Wesley in the AIB League. A teammate of mine with Otago John Haggart who coached alongside Penney as assistant coach at Canterbury seems to rate Penney highly as an disciplined and innovative man and certainly Penney’s previous skills as an Academy Director and then as a Head Coach will set him up to do the jobs that Foley may yet need more grounding in?
Penney also appears to have a knack of bringing on young talent, and that will be music to the ears of many of Munster’s new breed including the likes of Simon Zebo, Danny Barnes, Peter O’Mahoney, Conor Murray and others who proved this year that next year may be the time to step up, and Munster rugby needs these young players if they are going to continue to fight their way back to the pinnacle of European Cup Rugby.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that the role of Head Coach encompasses a multitude of tasks, not just an overall game plan, but an ability to oversee the academy, recruitment, management, finances, overseas signings the list goes on, it is a 24 hour gig.
The head coach must have his finger dipped in every pie, and that is where Foley will learn the most. For Penney to succeed he must start by giving Foley plenty of responsibility, guiding a young coach who many believe will coach Ireland in the near future on all aspects of the top job.
It still does not mean that Foley wont feel a little aggrieved, he will, but he must now learn and see his involvement in two or three years time. I believe taking everything into account that Penney will fit in pretty seamlessly to the way they do things in Munster, and if he can extract the best out of likes of Doug Howlett and new Kiwi signing Casey Laulau in his first season while at the same time bringing in some raw red talent then Pennys first year in one of the most demanding coaching jobs in the land may just work out well, fingers crossed.