The New Zealander is understandably delighted at the players’ response to his tactical plan but fully appreciates that the next three matches — away to the Ospreys and Leinster in the Rabo Pro 12 and Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup — will present a far more difficult challenge.
“We’ve got to keep a lid on things,” he declared.
“These guys are doing a terrific job but we must make sure we work hard in the early part of next week to try to keep the growth in the group going. I have used the word carnage to describe those games but I think our ability to play away from home is without question given that we competed well in Edinburgh and did so in Belfast even without a result. The guys have got their heads around the fact that it’s the same sized pitch wherever they go.”
The performance against the Dragons delighted one of the smallest attendances at Thomond Park since the new stadium was opened with Penney well entitled to enthuse: “When you make so many changes, you can have problems with your continuity. They breached us a few times and it showed the character of the group that they rushed back to help their mates in defence and that selfless work was being done.
“We made a few opportunities and didn’t finish them and certainly we weren’t perfect.”
Keith Earls has been extremely vocal when insisting that he only wants to wear the number 13 jersey even though he knows competition could hardly be keener. He certainly made the point very forcibly on this occasion, linking with the excellent Simon Zebo to create the side’s two superb early tries, while generally performing so well as to fully merit the man of the match award.
“The beauty about Keith is his durability and his versatility,” said Penney. “He’s a tough, robust bloke, very athletic and skilful and I think he’s a marvellous 13 who can also play inside centre and is obviously proven on the wing and full-back as well.
“He’ll have his opportunity and he’ll have opportunities elsewhere as well. It’s just a case of what is in the best interests of the team.”
The hugely talented recent acquisition Casey Laulala also covets the 13 jersey, a situation that leaves Penney with a selection dilemma.
He doesn’t seem in the least fazed by this: “Look, there are a number of positions that are challenging for us,” he stressed.
“Last week, we lost a guy like James Coughlan and a young man, Paddy Butler, came in and was terrific … it was Niall Ronan’s first game back and he had a steamer. I don’t want to even talk about what’s happening in the front-row as there are so many good people in there.”
Swift offloading and continuity have been keynotes of Munster’s new approach and not surprisingly Penney was thrilled with the two magnificent early tries finished off by Ian Keatley and Ronan. Conor Murray was only on the field a minute or two instead of the excellent Peter Stringer when he dived over for the third before Simon Zebo and Tommy O’Donnell got on the scoresheet. Ronan O’Gara kicked the remainder and was his customary authoritative self throughout.
“They have a licence to express themselves”, said Penney. “The entire management group are really chuffed at the way they are exhibiting their skills because it’s great for us to watch. It’s heart in the mouth stuff at times but only because it’s awe inspiring and wonderful.
“Everyone is putting on pressure for a starting spot and we’ve still got some fire power to come back. You probably need 30 to 36 players to get you through to silverware contention because nobody can play 35 or more games in a programme and expect to be firing on all cylinders. So the depth is critical and those people desperate to play are causing selection headaches.”
MUNSTER: I Keatley; D Howlett capt, K Earls, J Downey, S Zebo; R O’Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, M Sherry, B J Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, B Holland, Dave O’Callaghan, N Ronan, P Butler.
Replacements: C Murray for Stringer 50; S Archer for Botha 57; D Varley, W du Preez, D Foley and D Barnes for Sherry, Horan, Holland and Zebo; T O’Donnell for Ronan 70; J J Hanrahan for O’Gara 73.
DRAGONS: D Evans; W Harries, A Hughes, A Smith, T Prydie; L Robling, J Evans; P Price, S Jones capt,, D Way, I Nimmo, A Jones, D Lydiate, j Groves, T Brown.
Replacements: T Ryan for Brown 49; A Tuilagi for Smith 59; P Leach for Prydie and S Parry for S Jones 65; A Coundley for Price 67; L Davies for Hughes 77.
Referee: M Mitrea (France).