Penney drops for Munster

Munster got themselves up and running with this pre-season friendly victory over English second-tier opposition last night but for new head coach Rob Penney there was more than a hint of running before they have learned to walk as he tries to stamp his template on the province’s game.

Penney  drops for Munster

With two games down in pre-season and final run-out scheduled against Premiership big guns London Irish back here at Musgrave Park next Friday, Penney can see the outline of his gameplan for expansive, intelligent and physical running rugby beginning to take shape.

He also understands that there will be teething problems encountered en route to the finished product and last night’s three tries to nil victory over Championship side Bristol offered glimpses of both.

In many ways it was a giant leap forwards from last week’s opening outing in La Rochelle but there is plenty of room for improvement.

“There’s some good growth in the areas that we’re building in but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Penney said last night.

“I think if you look at the raw stats, there were 22 unforced errors last week and 11 penalties and this week there were 24 unforced errors. When you go against good sides that’ll kill you. We’ve just go to get more ruthless about our ability to retain ball and build pressure but it’s early days.”

Penney’s new charges are still taking their baby steps adjusting to the New Zealander’s approach but their excitement to please the incoming boss from Canterbury is also bringing some stumbles, even against a team some way off top-flight class.

“The boys tried really hard. The error rate killed us and kept them in the game for long periods where we just weren’t able to build pressure. But I think the errors are on the back of a willingness to give it a go; there was a bit of grease on the ball tonight and that makes it a little more difficult. But we genuinely have to improve in a number of areas to get to the performance for which we’re all searching.”

So, as expected, Penney’s team is a work in progress, although with the opening game of the RaboDirect Pro12 season just two weeks away, pre-season will be taking a step up in intensity ahead of the London Irish visit.

“Against La Rochelle we played some nice footie but there was also some anxiety and today we were probably 30 or 40 per cent better than were last week on completion.

“It’s only week two of 40 so we’ve got plenty of time to work on it but we don’t want to leave it until week 30 before we get it right.”

There was certainly a step up in aggression as Munster picked up the pace in the second half at Musgrave Park after a first half in which the boot of Bristol fly-half Adrian Jarvis gave the visitors a 9-3 lead at the interval, Munster’s Ian Keatley converting just one of three penalty attempts.

Early second-half tries from prop Dave Kilcoyne and scrum-half Duncan Williams, both converted by Keatley, edged Munster in front before Penney began introducing some more experienced heads for their first taste of competitive action this summer, with BJ Botha and Wian du Preez bringing some stability to a scrum that had been struggling to get on the same page as referee Dudley Phillips.

Also of concern was the penalty count elsewhere on the field, particularly at ruck time, but Penney was at least pleased with the step up in physicality.

“The boys got into their work a lot more efficiently and showed a physicality that was missing probably from that 80 against La Rochelle and that first 40 when we were pretty average, putting it mildly. So that gives us hope in that area as well.

“The number of penalties that we’re conceding is an issue right across the park. I think there were eight penalties and four or five free kicks today and against a good side they’re not going to let you off the hook.”

The bar has been lifted from last week’s game with La Rochelle, then, and though it’s early days yet, it will need to go up another level for the visit of London Irish back in Cork next weekend, when the finishing touches are put to Penney’s first pre-season and much more about Munster’s direction will be learned.

MUNSTER: D Hurley; D Howlett, capt (J Murphy, 60), C Laulala, J Downey (D Barnes, 52), L O’Dea (S Scanlon, 60); I Keatley (S Deasy, 60), D Williams (P Stringer, 55); D Kilcoyne (M Horan, 21-35; W du Preez, 52, replaced by M Horan, 73), D Varley (S Henry, 47, replaced by D Casey, 73), S Archer (BJ Botha, h-t); D Foley (B Hayes, 47), B Holland (P Donnellan, 65); T O’Donnell, S Dougall (B O’Mahony, 60), P Butler (Dave O’Callaghan, h-t).

BRISTOL: J Goodridge; R Edwards, B Rennie (J Gadd, 33), L Eves, G Watkins (D McIlwaine, 10); A Jarvis (T Roberts, 66), J Grindal (T Slater, 66); K Traynor (W Davis, 66), R Johnston (R Lawrence, 64), W Thompson (B Douglas, 66); M Sambucetti (R Winters, 37), G Townson; I Grieve, capt (M Mama, h-t), R Pennycook, M Eadie (J Merriman, h-t).

Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)

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