If the reaction of Canterbury supporters back in his native province is anything to go by, Munster’s appointment of Rob Penney as their new head coach is right on the money.
The thought of losing the man who guided their team to four NPC titles in-a-row, a feat achieved by only two other coaches in New Zealand’s rugby history and one of whom goes by the name of Graham Henry, had message board surfers typing frantically into the Kiwi night as news broke Down Under of Munster’s appointment.
“Noooooooooo not 1 of canterburys fav sons,” began one post on allblacks.com
“How has this happened.... Future all black coach mark my words!!!”
“Great news for Munster!” another hailed while someone else wrote of their forlorn hopes of seeing Penney take over at their beloved Blues.
Another said: “Sad day to lose this coach but Henry also did his stint in the Britsh Isles, maybe it’ll just make him better. Good luck to you Sir.”
Good luck and not one good riddance to the chisel-jawed Cantabrian, whose decision to leave for these shores appears to be Munster’s gain and Super Rugby’s loss.
There will be a quizzical welcome here when he arrives and rightly so, particularly as the province appointed the Kiwi ahead of one of the province’s favourite sons in Anthony Foley.
Penney, though, must be given the full two years of his contract to prove himself, by successfully completing the transition of the current squad from former champions into future ones started by Tony McGahan.
Penney’s experience as Crusaders’ development squad coach bodes well in that regard, indicating an appreciation of what it takes to turn raw talent into title-winning professional rugby players. And his introduction to the Munster scene, a first new coach from outside the provincial bubble for many a season, may well energise the more experienced players with a fresh approach to the day-to-day business of the training field.
Perhaps that is what appealed to Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald and his selection panel, who appear to have had their cake and eaten it by keeping Foley on board as forwards coach.
Once the initial disappointment of missing out on the top job fades, Foley may even come to appreciate being looked over this time. For it buys him at least two more years to hone his already impressive and well-regarded coaching skills, and not just with Munster but with Ireland Wolfhounds and possibly the Ireland senior team, as he did on a temporary basis during this year’s Six Nations. And it also keeps him away from the difficult task of ushering out the remaining contemporaries of his in the current squad as they reach retirement age.
Those tasks and some other serious decisions during what is still a transition phase for Munster will now fall to Penney but the working relationship between the two coaches is perhaps the one main concern.
Will Penney be happy to effectively groom his future replacement? And, on a practical basis, how will two former number 8s whose coaching backgrounds have both been with forwards get along on a daily basis? Reports from New Zealand, where he has a reputation for being outspoken, are that Penney is not the sort of man who will shy away from such issues. And that bodes well for everyone who cares about Munster future.
And who knows? If he teaches Foley some new tricks and also helps develop fellow Kiwi Doug Howlett as a backs coach, as has been suggested, then Penney may well oversee the development of a dream ticket to coach Munster into the next decade.
Well, days like these are meant for high hopes.
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