By Conor George
ROB PENNEY plans on introducing a new and “highly credible” backs’ coach to the Munster management team within the next few weeks.
Speaking from New Zealand this morning the incoming Munster Head of Coaching was hugely enthusiastic about working with Anthony Foley (forwards), adding his own twist to the Munster legend, helping wring the best from Munster’s veterans and continuing the development of the younger generation.
The process of appointing a backs’ coach is, he also revealed, well underway.
“Well some would say that even though I was a number 8 – 101 Canterbury caps – I played loose enough to be a back!
“Plans are in place to bring in a backs’ coach. Without, as you can appreciate, naming names we have someone in mind and if things go to plan we will be introducing a new face as the backs’ coach in the coming weeks.”
And lest anyone be in any doubt about Penney’s ambitions, winning silverware is something he insists that goes to the very core of his being and coaching philosophy.
“I am really driven by success. Brad Thorn with Leinster said something to me that resonates. He’s a good example of a guy who got to the top and is determined to maximise everything while there.
“And what he said was ‘mate, it’s all about collecting silverware’.
“That resonates with me. As a coach I love planning the strategies that will get players and teams to the top.
“I am driven to be successful and have a winning philosophy. And at the same time I truly believe that the developmental process must go hand-in-hand.”
Penney’s CV is a hugely impressive one. As well as being forwards’ coach with Crusaders when they won the then Super 12 title in 2005 he is the current All Blacks U20 coach and has spent the last nine years with Canterbury, leading them to four successive ITM Cup titles since 2008.
Crucially, though, he is also steeped in the Crusaders Academy set-up, coached the Christchurch U16 side to their league title this season – “I’m very proud of that!” – and fully understands that Munster remains a side in transition.
He is also mindful of the reality that many of Munster’s stalwarts have entered or are entering the twilight of their careers.
“Part of my job is to help the likes of Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara maximise their careers, ensure they do leave a magnificent legacy and also that those coming through to ultimately take their places have the confidence to do just that.”
Another invaluable asset will be Penney’s ability to successfully integrate international players into the fold on an ongoing basis.
“We would have had All Blacks coming and going a lot during the NPC with Canterbury and it’s all about finding that balance between having the younger generation come up to the speed and standards of the older guys while ensuring that there is minimum disruption when the internationals are back.
“And Munster have that with internationals coming back just before European games. That’s a challenge, and one I’m looking forward to.”
Penney will arrive in Munster in the middle to July with his wife and two youngest (15 & 17) children. The oldest (20) will remain in New Zealand and will base himself on the outskirts of Limerick.
“It makes sense with University of Limerick and Thomond Park where they are.”
And while Munster’s long term goal is obviously to have one training base for the franchise Penney is mindful of the history and tradition of the dual mandate.
“I understand the history and rationale of the two bases and I am coming into Munster with my eyes open in that regard.
“I know that there have been discussions in the past with regard to having one training base but Cork and Limerick are crucially important to Munster and I will be very much in favour of doing what’s best for Munster.
“Look the twin training bases is unique in world rugby. But unique doesn’t make it wrong.”
Penney this morning also dismissed the myth that Northern Hemisphere rugby is looked down on by those in the Southern Hemisphere and emphasised that the tradition and history of Munster, in particular, is well known and highly regarded.
“I was a teenager when Munster beat the All Blacks and remember it quite well.
“Munster are a real powerhouse in European rugby circles and have an astonishing consistency in Europe.
“They are among the best in Europe and people in New Zealand are very aware of their proud history and traditions. I certainly was. The game is played slightly differently in the different Hemispheres but different isn’t better or worse.
“I have seen a lot of the RaboDirect and the Heineken Cup and these competitions are fantastic ones with a great standard.”
Penny is also hugely looking forward to working with the Munster players, young and old.
“The likes of Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara and Doug Howlett are world class players and I am enthused by the work and quality of the generation coming through underneath.
“I spoke to some players when I was over in Munster and what I sensed was a desperate desire to do well, to win trophies and that is what I hope to help them achieve.
“They are also, I felt, ready for a slight shift and hopefully I can help inspire them to produce quality and successful rugby.
“I want to help these guys win silverware. Like I said it’s what drives me and I know it’s what drives them.”
Just as well given Chief Executive Garrett Fitzgerald’s none too subtle reminder that next season’s Heineken Cup final will be held in the Avive Stadium!
“No pressure then mate!
“A major part of our focus will be performance based. And part and parcel of that will be ensuring we are in contention to grab silverware.
“The Heineken Cup is a crucial part of Munster’s drive every season and if we are playing good rugby, exciting rugby and inspiring rugby then outcomes tend to take care of themselves,” added Penney.