You quickly get the impression from listening to Rob Penney that his new charges at Munster had better learn from their mistakes and be quick about it.
The New Zealander has not been holding the reins for a month yet but his assessment yesterday of the province’s young guns in the opening pre-season friendly defeat at La Rochelle on Friday night will leave them under no illusions that the former Canterbury boss has not travelled from one end of the world to the other just to be a babysitter.
Penney wants Munster playing his way, an expansive brand of intuitive, total rugby where forwards are as adept and mobile as backs, who likewise have to front up with the toughness of their mates in the pack.
He accepts there may be setbacks along the way but he does not expect the same errors twice from players he believes are more than capable of executing his game plan.
So the first challenge for Friday’s home friendly against English Championship side Bristol at Musgrave Park, is to eradicate the 22 unforced errors committed against La Rochelle and tighten up a defence that allowed the home side 13 line breaks.
“The style that we were trying to implement is one in which everyone’s got to be able to play, everyone’s got to be able to analyse what’s in front of them and interact off each other and play what they see and expose opportunities when the opposition provides them,” Penney said yesterday after training in Cork.
“I’d say we were probably 60% of the way there [against La Rochelle]. In our review, the opportunities that were created were numerous and our inefficiency to compete was on the back of probably a little lack of understanding and some decision-making that, given those set of circumstances again, they’d probably do something different.
“So, the positives were that we were creating opportunities. The downsides were that our error rate, 22 unforced errors. That’s not about having guys that aren’t capable of playing the way we want to play or not having the skills or ability to do it. It was on the back of poor decisions and putting themselves under pressure that manifested itself in a poor outcome.
“There were some real positives. I thought our lineout was first class. And in the [things to] work on area, a big focus on our contact work, particularly our inside-channel defence, on our height through all the contact areas, our scrummage and I suppose on some of the traditional values of Munster, of just being a bit tough sometimes. We were a bit fragile.
“Some of those things are indicative of first-round or early-season games in 35 degrees in a balmy seaside town in France but after the review and the discussions that we’ve had, I don’t think they will be an issue heading into this game.”
Telling, that last sentence. Yet Penney is a coach satisfied his message his hitting home.
“It’s been great. The players’ attitude has been first rate and the desire to please and try to achieve something within the structures that have been provided has been [too].
“As I said, some the decision-making and some of the skill accuracy is where the fundamental issues lie and that’s just about guys making good decisions and getting used to seeing a different picture in front of them and having the flexibility and the confidence and ultimately the self-belief to carry out the decisions based on what they’re seeing instead of being, I suppose, rote-taught in some way.”
It is up to Penney’s players, then, regardless of their status, not to have their hands held but to work it out for themselves. And be quick about it.
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