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Rob Penney backs next generation of Munster stars to confirm revival

The New Zealander admits he was surprised that at least three more Munster men were not included in the Lions squad.

Rob Penney in training ground discussion with JJ Hanrahan.
Rob Penney in training ground discussion with JJ Hanrahan.
Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

MUNSTER COACH ROB PENNEY is more at home in a Munster training jersey, his shorts and sandals but, chatting amiably at the IRUPA Awards in the Burlington Hotel, the Kiwi scrubs up well.

Leinster scrumhalves Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan, back on his feet after a leg fracture in March, stop by his giant frame to share some tales and talk southern hemisphere rugby. With Blues winger Andrew Conway heading to Munster next season, should Leinster fans be worried about Penney attempting to pry any more players down south?

“You’re always recruiting,” Penney replies before breaking into a grin.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt conceded that Munster had carried out a nice piece of business in snapping up Conway. His fellow New Zealander agrees. “That’s the job, to identify talent that is not being utilised and seeing if we can entice them.

We’re rapt that we have Andrew. From the moment that I arrived here, I saw him as someone that had a great deal of talent… now that he has got a successive run of football he has been able to demonstrate the talent he has. Hopefully we can provide him with the same, if not better, opportunities down at Munster.”

Andrew Conway dives over to score against Ospreys. (©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)

He told TheScore.ie, “I’m proud of the Heineken Cup but also disappointed as we had chances to win in France. It wasn’t as if we were wiped off the park. The Rabo Cup is very frustrating. In the end we were only a couple of games from making the top four but our performances haven’t been good enough, based on the talent we have available. That is something we will try to rectify next year.”

The former Canterbury [ITM Cup] side has veered from saviour to sackcloth imposter at different stages of the season, often on a week to week basis. Penney declares “honestly” that he does not read the newspapers but recognises that intense media coverage is ‘the nature of the best’.

He said, “All I do is my job and if the job’s not good enough, people get rid of me. Simple as that; I can’t worry about it.”

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Ben Kay with Paul O’Connell and Rob Penney (r). (Credit: Sportsfile)

Munster finished sixth in the Pro12 league standings but found form in the Heineken Cup, besting first seeds Harlequins at The Stoop and pushing Clermont Auvergne to their limits in Montpelier. Stalwarts such as Mick O’Driscoll, Marcus Horan and David Wallace have retired in the last year while Peter Stringer has been forced to move to England in search or regular rugby.

“When we get our top people on the track we are a very competitive team,” said Penney. “We’ve lost about 1,000 [Munster] caps in the last 12 months and a lot of those older guys would have been holding it together for us in the Rabo Cup. There’s a lot of new guys trying to find their way in a very competitive league at the moment. We’ve fundamentally got two teams.”

Along with the close call in Europe, Penney’s season soured when he learned that only inspirational lock Paul O’Connell and scrumhalf Conor Murray would be travelling to Australia with the Lions. He feels Peter O’Mahony and Simon Zebo should ‘absolutely’ be heading Down Under this summer. Penney told TheScore.ie:

Those two, I thought, would have been picked based on the performances of the guys that I’ve seen of the guys that got picked ahead of them. I don’t know about some of the history of those players and guys that have gone on the [previous] tours. I think those two guys were really unlucky.

“Another outsider, although he hasn’t played any international rugby yet, is Tommy O’Donnell. I’m sure he’ll get the opportunity on the [Irish] summer tour to America.”

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Patrick McCarry

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