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Rob Penney: It's humbling and nerve-tinglingly exciting to lead Munster into the Heineken Cup

In the week when ‘chillax’ arrived in Irish politics, the Kiwi coach is so eager for action that he made up a new word.

Rob Penney is relishing testing his Munster side against the best.
Rob Penney is relishing testing his Munster side against the best.
Image: ©INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

AMID ALL THE talk of Tana Umaga fighting it out with Anthony Foley for the Munster coaching job back in April, Rob Penney was doing his research.

The New Zealand Under-20 coach, the third name on Munster’s shortlist, spoke to players and coaches plying their trade in Europe and Irish rugby was hardly given a glowing assessment.

Penney told TheScore.ie, “When I was in (New Zealand) and line for the job, I talked to people about the level and depth of players in Ireland.

“A number of people told me I’d be challenged by their skill level and their abilities to do things on the field. I think there is a false perception about the level of players, and their quality, in Ireland.”

As it turns out, Penney took the job, retained Foley as forwards coach, and insists he is ‘really rapt with the quality of young men we’ve got coming through’.

He admits, however, that the lure of the Heineken Cup was the major factor in convincing him to make the 20,000km journey to Ireland.

“I’m trying to keep myself grounded,” he said. “For me, when you watch these events from New Zealand – and it is a long way away, with the history and traditions, it’s exciting.” Penney added:

You’re dealing with a group like Munster, their history and expectations a so forth, and bring them up to experience the Heineken Cup level is something I could have only dreamed of a few years ago.

“Here I am, (a few days) out from taking part in this wonderful competition. For me it is humbling but also nerve-tinglingly exciting.”

Ready for the challenge

Despite the forewarnings before he landed in Ireland, the Kiwi has described the young crop of Munster players, and their discipline and dedication, as ‘without peer’.

“There’s a level of maturity in the players (based in Europe) that makes every game tough and robust,” he said. “The players tend to play on a bit longer – that adds a level of experience and depth to every team you play.” Penney commented:

Munster at the moment, we’re going through a bit of a transition, a number of young blokes in key positions that are doing a tremendous job. Over time, the growth and development of those men, how they handle themselves weekly in the Rabo then stepping up to the Heineken is an exciting proposition for us in the south of Ireland.

“You can’t replace experience and longevity quickly. That only comes from playing lots of footie and lots of competitions – players getting to know themselves, growing and being comfortable with themselves. We’ve only started that transition and, without putting a time frame on it, we’ll get there.”

When Saturday comes

Grouped with Racing Metro, Saracens, quarter-finalists last year, and Edinburgh, who made the semi-finals under Michael Bradley, Munster will need to play out of their developing skins if they are to repeat the six from six winning streak of last season’s pool stages.

“It’s a tough pool but if you want to be involved at the highest level you want to be playing the best,” Penney told TheScore.ie. ”It’s a great opportunity for our lads to test themselves against the best.” He added:

Dougie (Howlett) summed it up beautifully when he talked about the opportunities, in Europe, to play against some of the best players in the world. It’s also the best teams in the world, great traditions, some of the best grounds in the world.

“That is what brings in a level of emotion that you don’t get anywhere else in the world. It’s a stunning competition to be a part of.”

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Patrick McCarry

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