Munster’s list of prospective backs coaches was reduced by one yesterday after Canterbury confirmed Rob Penney’s assistant Tabai Matson had been appointed as his replacement at the New Zealand province.
Matson had been an assistant to new Munster coach Penney at Canterbury since 2009 and with Munster looking for a new backs coach when Jason Holland departs at the end of the season, the former Crusaders and All Blacks centre had been mentioned as a possible candidate.
Instead, Matson, who earned five All Black caps and also played twice for Fiji at the 1999 World Cup, was announced as the man to take over Penney’s head coach role at Canterbury, with their chief executive Hamish Riach saying: “We are delighted that Tabai has accepted the job. He has been a superb assistant coach for Canterbury, helping to lead the team to successive provincial titles.
“We are fortunate to have someone with his extensive playing and coaching experience available to fill this position.”
Matson paid tribute to the departing Penney when he added: “As a former Canterbury player and assistant coach, this is a team I am proud to be involved with and to be able to step up to the head coach role is the pinnacle.
“We have been so well lead over the past six years by Rob Penney and I hope to be as good a guardian of the jersey as he was.”
Penney is set to start work at Munster in mid-July, by which time the province’s chief executive Garret Fitzgerald expects to have the new backs coach in place alongside forwards coach Anthony Foley.
Whoever fills the vacancy, former Ireland and Lions prop Paul Wallace believes Penney is facing a long haul in finishing the overhaul of the squad started by the outgoing McGahan, a process he likened to the job facing England after they won the 2003 World Cup.
“I think they’re quite similar to the English team of 2003 which had a core of the team all the way through and the next thing they were all gone,” Sky Sports analyst Wallace said.
“Trying to rebuild after that can take a long time and there’s lots of young talent there. But there’s very few guys that are... say, at Leinster, when the O’Driscolls go and the Cullens go, then you’ve already got Heaslips and Kearneys and people like that and then you’ve got another level with the Conways and people like that afterwards.
“So there’s always a trickle through and you’ve got to do that.
“That’s about making hard decisions, where there’s a guy that you’ve known and has been doing a job for you for the last 10 years but you’ve got to start saying, ‘right, you’re not going to be playing every game now and there’s a guy coming in who’s eventually going to be taking your place’.”
Wallace’s Sky Sports colleague and former Ireland team-mate Tyrone Howe believes Munster have not been usurped by his native province Ulster, despite their European quarter-final victory at Thomond Park last month.
Ulster meet Leinster on Saturday in the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham but Howe disputed the suggestion that the dominant force in Irish rugby was now a Leinster-Ulster axis.
“No, it’s not a dominant axis. What’s the word for a triple axis?
“I think Munster have issues but there’s such strength and their foundations are very solid. It might take them a little bit of time but they will absolutely be back.”
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