Munster Rugby chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald yesterday made clear his province would not be standing still and congratulating themselves on finding a quality coach to replace the outgoing Tony McGahan but would be moving swiftly to install a new team manager and backs coach to join the former Canterbury head coach and forwards coach Anthony Foley in the new regime.
And in a further signal that Munster intend to hit the ground running in the 2012-13 campaign, Fitzgerald also set New Zealander Penney the highest challenge possible for his first season in charge — a Heineken Cup final place in 12 months at the Aviva Stadium.
A day after announcing Munster got their man, in the imposing shape of 48-year-old Penney, subject to a work permit and following the conclusion of his tenure as New Zealand U20 coach at the Junior World Championships in South Africa next month, Fitzgerald confirmed the exits at the end of this season of team manager Shaun Payne and backs coach Jason Holland.
South African Payne, a Heineken Cup winner with Munster in 2006, is leaving to pursue business interests while two-time European runner-up Holland will not have his contract renewed this summer.
“I would envisage that from next week, we will start planning in that area and I would like to think we would have a lot of work done on it in the month of May,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re not waiting until July to do that unless there is some specific reason that we have to, but that’s not part of the plan.”
Former Munster and Ireland backs coach Niall O’Donovan, currently back in the Munster set-up as manager of the British and Irish Cup-winning A team, is favourite to succeed Payne. That appointment would emphasise Fitzgerald’s desire for some degree of continuity and retaining a role in consultation with Penney about the make-up of his staff.
“Ultimately, the coach doesn’t need that extra responsibility on his shoulders, of being blamed for bringing in the wrong people,” Fitzgerald said.
“I’ve had three communications with him already in the last 24 hours of some shape or form. He’s having an input but he respects the position he is in and he respects everyone else’s position until the season is over.
“As you would do with any coach, you consult in all things because he is the boss of the team itself so he is entitled into his input in what goes on there. Obviously he is well aware of the requirement to have local knowledge and input and he has no major requirement to make drastic changes.”
As to who the new backs coach might be, the Munster chief executive did not rule out former head coach candidate Tana Umaga but said that when the former All Blacks captain had been interviewed, it had only been to discuss the top job.
“Tana was in for the job and was quite an impressive individual who I hadn’t met before but certainly left an impression. He hasn’t applied, we haven’t advertised or anything like that.
“Will he be considered for it? Look, possibly, the same as a lot of other people. We haven’t started on that yet. But now he hasn’t got this role, I think he is committed to the Manukau Counties until at least the end of October. That’s my understanding of it.”
Whichever way the two-time European champions go, Penney’s new staff will be under no illusions that they have to start producing results from day one of the incoming head coach’s two-year contract.
“People have said to me ‘you lack ambition’ and ‘you’re third province and you could be fourth province’. But the way I answer is that the Heineken Cup final is on in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin next year and that’s where we want to be,” Fitzgerald said.
“We’ve been going through a transition for four years. We were going through a transition when we won the Magners League and we were going through a transition when we won [Heineken Cup] in 2008 so I don’t think you can use that as an excuse. So our ambition won’t be any different and our expectation won’t be any different and I don’t think we can use transition as an excuse for that.”