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Penney: JJ Hanrahan has ‘got the blowtorch on Keats’

Hanrahan and Ian Keatley are vying for the out-half position ahead of the clash with Gloucester.

Keatley or Hanrahan? The decision is Penney's.
Keatley or Hanrahan? The decision is Penney's.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

MANY A RUGBY debates grows stale very quickly, but others continue to be worthwhile for months and months.

Ian Keatley v JJ Hanrahan for Munster’s number 10 shirt is one that just won’t go away, with peaks and troughs for both players at different times over the course of the season meaning it remains unresolved.

The senior out-half was the latest to wear the hallowed jersey, but his performance against Ulster last weekend means his Heineken Cup spot is in doubt, particularly given that Hanrahan has been in creative, assured form over the last month or so.

Head coach Rob Penney was, as ever, honest in admitting that Keatley hadn’t delivered last time out, but qualified those words with an explanation for the poor display.

“The poor guy had an off day, a bad day. He’d be the first to admit that. It’s unlike Ian and there’s some reasons for that. He’s been unable to train as much as he would have done, and on the back of that, the performance wasn’t what he would like.

But he’s got through that 80 minutes. He’s had some time to reflect on that and he’s been able to get more work in this week. He’s had no repercussions from the groin injury that’s been holding him back. So between the two lads, we’ve got total faith in those two boys.”

There’s no definitive clue in that, so the Munster coach is prompted again. Penney and his fellow staff have a difficult decision to make surely?

“As we have done all year. We’ve given them both good opportunity. Ian Keatley’s done a great job in the last 18 months, when ROG had been unavailable and when he’s had to step up this year. You’ve got to support the guys who are doing the job for you, and JJ’s done a great job as well.

“He’s getting more experience all the time and he’s got the blowtorch on Keats. It’ll be interesting to see where the selection goes, but whichever way we go, we’ll get a positive back-up.”

image

Penney was giving nothing away in regards to his thoughts on his 10s. ©INPHO/James Crombie.

Away from having the fortune to call on two out-halves he trusts, Penney will also be depending on an area of growing strength for Munster; the maul. Ulster were dismantled in that sector at Ravenhill, and there is surely more of the same to come at Kingsholm against a Gloucester pack that has failed to impose itself too often this season.

The Kiwi agrees that Munster may have an advantage with their driven line-outs.

“It’s a great area of strength for us. Axel’s [Anthony Foley] got that maul, that aspect of the game, working really well. The boys have bought into what he’s trying to do there and we’re getting good outcomes from it.

Every team has a vulnerability and Gloucester will have some; we’ve got some. Whether the maul makes up a big part of our strategy this week, we’ll wait and see. It’s a great credit to Axel and the lads with how it’s gone.”

Munster insist that they will not be basing their approach on what they have seen of Gloucester in the Premiership, but it might also be dangerous to analyse the two sides’ earlier encounter in Pool 6 too deeply either.

That day, in October, Nigel Davies put out a greatly weakened team, on paper at least. Gloucester proved to be competitive and spirited, but it remains likely that their challenge will be very different this weekend.

Penney claims to be unsure of what to expect.

“It’s hard to say. There’s a fair bit of water gone under the bridge since then. They’ve got a bit of a characteristic, which you could say is the Gloucester way, and I don’t think that’ll change. We’ve just got to be very wary of the threats that they pose – and they do pose a lot of threats – and be able to nullify what they bring.”

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Murray Kinsella

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