Penney: Passion a key tool for Ireland

Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Ireland v New Zealand
Ireland may be at the start of a new era under Joe Schmidt but fellow New Zealander Rob Penney believes the national side should have nothing to fear as they prepare to meet the all-conquering All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.

Munster head coach Penney’s time in his homeland saw him work with some of the mainstays of the current world champions’ side, not least Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, through his long association with his native Canterbury and the Crusaders and he got a glimpse of future All Black greatness during his spell as New Zealand U20 coach before heading to Ireland in the summer of 2012.

Yet despite witnessing Ireland’s lacklustre and tryless 32-15 defeat to Australia in Dublin last weekend,Penney dismissed the suggestion that the Irish should be fearful this weekend.

“The key thing for them is to do what everyone has been talking about all week, is just bring a bit of passion,” Penney said. “I wouldn’t be fearful of them. I know what the Irish lads are capable of bringing and if they throw themselves into it, anything is possible.”

Regarding the below-par performances in beating Samoa and then losing to the Wallabies, Penney said it was still “early days” for the new Ireland management trio of Schmidt, John Plumtree and Les Kiss. Switch the conversation to the All Blacks, however, and Penney is full of admiration as they bid to become the first Test side to record a 100% record in a calendar year.

“Any time there is a little record to be broken it’ll be something that’ll certainly inspire them,” the Munster boss said. “Complacency can set in at some unnerving and awkward times, but given it’s the last game of the year, given there is the potential to go through unbeaten, I don’t think there is any potential for complacency.”

Steve Hansen’s All Blacks have lost just once since Graham Henry, his predecessor as head coach, bowed out with victory on home soil at the 2011 World Cup and despite some changes in playing personnel, Penney believes the current crop, who have already overcome dogged resilience from both France and England this autumn, are on a par with the heroes of two years ago.

“They are as good. There’s obviously been quite a few names come out of the team and another lot of names that have gone in. If youreflect back to the New Zealand 20s, when they were unbeaten for the first (four) tournaments at U20s (2008-11). It was the 2010 group, I think they won the final by 45 points... there is a good half dozen from that group now that have come through and there is still a few more to come. There was an era when the New Zealand 20s were just about untouchable and that cohort are working their way through to the top team, so there should be a good group there for a while yet. They have really replaced the World Cup group, the likes of Aaron Cruden, Ryan Crotty.”

For Penney, that means, there is a conveyor belt of talent pushing through and, more importantly, a coaching regime that recognises, as does Schmidt with Ireland, the necessity to give up-and-coming players Test-match experience.

“When the likes of Dan Carter gets injured 20 minutes into a Test match, they roll on because of theopportunities now. Three years ago Richie and Danny played just about every minute of every Test. Great credit to Steve Hansen and [assistants] Ian Foster and Aussie McClean for what they did, they’ve rotated guys in, obviously in the knowledge that they’re not going to last forever and they need to bring other ones on but they have done a great job in doing that. When those big boys are injured they have great replacements, Having given them that experience along the way.”

As Schmidt alluded to in the wake of defeat to Australia, as he contemplated an injury to fly-half Johnny Sexton, the All Blacks have a greater opportunity to blood young players as they play more Tests, with Carter’s deputy Cruden alreadynotching more than 30 caps while Sexton’s replacements Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson have 11 games between them.

“You can’t give away Test matches to people who aren’t worthy of a Test jersey. But also that rotation policy is critical for the development of any professional rugby environment. You can’t expect people to step in if they’ve never had the opportunity to, and Joe and his coaching team, Plums and Les, have got to be really confident and persevere with the guys they do have faith in.

“They have to show they genuinely have faith in them so the players get that self-belief and the confidence themselves. It’s not an easy one given that Joe has come into an environment where there probably hasn’t been a rotation policy for selection so he’s going to have to grow some people.”

Sunday against the All Blacks is not the best scenario to “grow” players, however, particularly the way Hansen’s side has found a way to get the job done on their November tour with victories in Paris and Twickenham.

“Tough tours up here for the boys at the end of the season,” Penney said. “But they have done enough, they have played well and have just showed at the odd time when they are under a bit of pressure they pull out a magic try or a bit of play, something that just gets them over the line.

“They were under a lot of pressure against England. With 10 minutes to go, they were behind and you think ‘Jeez they are under pressure now’, but they have this ability and self-belief and resilience to overcome those hurdles.”

Penney not interested in Munster moans

Munster coach Rob Penney has challenged his players to prove to Ireland boss Joe Schmidt that they can’t be ignored.

Incoming national coach Schmidt has started just two Munster players in each of his opening games in charge, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony against Samoa, before omitting Lions scrum-half Murray in favour of Leinster’s Eoin Reddan for last Saturday’s Test against Australia, with Paul O’Connell returning to the first XV to captain his country.

Murray and Stephen Archer both saw action off the bench in the defeat to the Wallabies but Penney admitted the lack of representation from the southern province had caused mutterings within his set-up.

The New Zealander, though, believes it is up to his players to fight their way into Test-match squads for the next international window, this season’s Six Nations beginning in February. Asked if the balance of power between the provinces in terms of selection was cyclical, Penney replied: “Probably.

“Leinster teams have won two Heineken Cups, Ulster have been there or thereabouts in the Rabo and for us to get the players’ names back in front of the national selectors, we’ve got to play a brand of rugby that not only highlights the skills that are required but also shows the tenacity and fortitude that are going to be required when they do get selected.

“I think we have it internally, a little bit of ‘ohhh, not many Munster boys in the group’, but if we perform consistently and get the runs on the board, we can’t be ignored. So that’s our challenge, that’s the challenge I put to our boys.”

Murray, 24, had to settle for a substitute’s role at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday as Reddan was chosen to start at scrum-half against the Wallabies. The selection decision represented the first time Murray had experienced being dropped from the national side since establishing himself as first-choice number nine for the 2012 Six Nations.

With Schmidt today naming his side to face world champions New Zealand in the closing Test of the Guinness Series on Sunday, Murray could return to the starting line-up and from speaking to his scrum-half, Penney expects him to be looking to prove a point.

“I had a communication with Conor,” the Munster boss said. “I think like any new selection group they are working their way through their panel. Reddan got an opportunity last week and hopefully Conor will get back in the mix this week and show he maybe shouldn’t have been left out.

“But that’s up to Conor to play with the consistent approach that the national guys want him to play with and the manner in which they want him to play so that he doesn’t get benched.”


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