The Popular Vote: Rob Penney Return On The Cards?

Munster Haka

Munster Haka

Munster Haka is a rugby news, entertainment and opinion website with a red tinted focus.
Munster Haka

Written by Ronan Calvert of Munster Haka

So team Rassie & Jac have taken up a job offer of a lifetime and that’s no good thing for Munster. 

Rassie Erasmus (right) and Jacques Nienaber (left) have been snapped up by the SARFU

It is entirely understandable why two proud South African men would want to leave Munster to take up respective roles with their national team. What is disappointing is the way that this situation has been handled.

On the 24th of April upon being asked whether he would definitely be staying with Munster next season, Erasmus told the media “Yes, yes, yes, yes. I’ve never been speculating about this!” At the time we knew the second part of that answer wasn’t exactly true and well we now know, neither was the first.

There is no doubt in my mind that Erasmus did a marvellous job in the most challenging of seasons for the province. He provided a cool head, managed his team excellently and showed off his tactical nous throughout. However, the reality now before us casts a bit of a shadow on what was a blockbuster year in our history.

The great job that Erasmus knew he could do and subsequently did, wasn’t for Munster as we always want to believe in an ideal world. He made no secret that being appointed to a top role with the Springboks was a dream of his and with that in mind, Munster was essentially a launch pad for his true ambition.

As bitter as that may sound, it’s no flaw on Rassie. He’s in a business and he wants to get to the top. A European club of which he had no affinity to was always but a rung on his career’s ladder. The emotion and memories that he experienced while living in Ireland go down as a bonus.

He arrived into a mess, he prospered in adversity and left Munster in a better place. We’re grateful for that. But a steadier future would have been appreciated.

The Candidates

Following the news, the usual names popped up – Eddie, Deccie, the lot.

But among the mixing pot were a few interesting ones which we’ve briefly looked at below.

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Andy Farrell

Pros – International coaching pedigree, previous stint at Munster Cons – Tactical knowledge questionable, contracted to the Ireland national team.

Ronan O’Gara

Pros – Three seasons of top European coaching experience, knows Munster inside-out. Cons – Contracted to Racing 92, is it too soon?

Tama Umaga 

Pros – Has done a good job as head coach of the Blues, out of contract next Summer. Cons – Would he be interested? Unproven in the Northern Hemisphere.

John Plumtree 

Pros – Proven as one of the world’s best forwards coaches with Ireland and the Hurricanes, head coach success with the Sharks. Cons – Would he be interested? Highly sought after.

Jason Holland

Pros – Proven backs coach with Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes, understanding of Munster Rugby. Cons – Says he isn’t interested right now

But when all the above was accounted for, when all the Warren Gatland joking was done and when all the wild Paulie suggestions had been dismissed, it soon became apparent in our minds and in the minds of our social media following that the way has been paved for the return of one man – Rob Penney.

Penney’s project came to an end in 2014 as he looked to support his family

As popular as you would expect the return of Ronan O’Gara to be, the thought of Rob Penney making a comeback turned the most heads.

What He Offered

What Penney essentially did with Munster in his time was put a 2-4-2 attack formation in place, let the forwards do their thing and ensured that the backs’ skills were to the level required to play with width. Testing his skills training, league games sometimes saw Munster suffer for an over emphasis on playing ‘coast to coast’ rugby. But what was a short-term loss was always planned to be a long-term gain.

Indeed, the point that was sometimes lost within the Penney era was that the New Zealander wasn’t trying to change Munster’s style or trying to stray from the team’s traditional strengths, but rather add another dimension to our naturally outstanding quality of forward play.

Anyone who has a depiction of Penney being entirely backs orientated is mistaken and otherwise was clearly demonstrated as when it most mattered, Munster were sent out to do what they were best at doing at the time – taking a direct approach. The 2013 and 2014 Heineken Cup knockout stages both saw Penney being accepting that the performance of the pack would have to be the bedrock of any possible victory on the big stage for the time being. Improving handling confidence isn’t a one year thing or a two year thing, it’s three years and beyond. Ask Wayne Pivac, ask Pat Lam.

Scarlets celebrate league glory after three seasons of hard work under Wayne Pivac

Munster lost narrowly and respectably in the two games with really just one dimension to their gameplan. A gameplan that worked in the quarter final rounds in both years but was ultimately proven inadequate when the heat was turned up. As the man himself said “Passion will take you some of the way, intelligence gets you over the line. A mixture of styles is critical for success.”

The next step was to intertwine a traditional strength and a Penney-manufactured one. And who knows where that could have taken us?

What he can now offer

Penney’s ideologies certainly don’t strike you as the kind that can be implemented mid-way through a season, but whose are? In fact, on that point I wonder whether Munster would be better served by simply signing an interim coach to see-out what is all but definitely set to be a trophy-less season regardless. Starting afresh the following Summer is an idea that you can’t help but feel would be more beneficial to everyone involved.

Does Penney want to return? Is the pain of watching Irishmen dropping balls for two seasons before finally clicking something he is willing to persist through all over again? Or now with the senior squad members all understanding of Penney’s strategies do they act as a catalyst in teaching the new dogs some new tricks?

If the latter is the case then Munster would most definitely be onto a winner. Particularly so when you account that the changes of personnel that have been made in the meantime have left the side much better equipped to helping the Kiwi’s ambitions become realities. The prospect of having a guy like Rory Scannell playing outside of Tyler Bleyendaal or JJ Hanrahan, as opposed to the old Keatley and Downey combination for instance, would have to excite the 63 year old massively.

Some people only want to look forward but only some of Penney’s story is in the past.

Give him time and he will deliver.

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