Monthly Archives: May 2012

All Blacks Watch – Backs

All Blacks - Dan Carter

Carter will be back, but possibly in the centre. (c) Geoff Trotter.

With just over 4 weeks left until Ireland and New Zealand kick-off their 3-test series on the 9th of June in Eden Park, now is as good a time as any to take a look at how the All Blacks are shaping up. With 10 rounds of Super Rugby played, it’s safe to say that most of the players who will be involved are coming close to peak form. While the Blues have struggled badly, having won just one game so far, the other four NZ sides are going well.

Perhaps the best way to anticipate how the All Blacks might line up is to go through each position on the field. While there is the chance that new Head Coach Steve Hansen will take an experimental approach to this test series, he will probably feel more comfortable fielding his strongest available team for what will be his first competitive games in charge.

Israel Dagg was first-choice fullback at RWC 2011 and one of the standout players of the tournament. He is the man is possession of the no. 15 jersey, but the scintillating form of Andre Taylor for the Hurricanes will put some pressure on. 24-year-old Taylor leads the Super Rugby try-scoring charts with 8 in 10 games. His searing pace and incisive counter-attacking mark him out as a definite All Black. Still, Dagg has also been performing consistently well, with 4 tries in his 10 outings.


A third option at the back is the Highlanders Ben Smith. The 25-year-old earned two All Blacks caps back in 2009, but hasn’t featured since. His performances this season will have made Hansen take notice. Smith’s ability to beat defenders and create scores for his teammates has helped the Highlanders to win 7 of their 10 games.  In addition, Smith has the versatility to comfortably cover the wing and even centre. While Dagg will be favourite to start at fullback, Taylor and Smith offer exciting alternatives.

Corey Jane and Richie Kahui were the World Cup wingers and both played key roles in New Zealand’s victory. Kahui has been playing outside centre for the Chiefs this season. His partnership with Sonny Bill Williams has been one of the key reasons that the Chiefs lead the overall Super Rugby table. Hansen stated this week that he still considers Kahui as an option on the wing, so the signs are good for him.

Hurricanes man Jane hasn’t lit up in terms of try-scoring just yet, although 3 in 9 is not to be sneered at. The 29-year-old’s overall displays have been top-quality. His link play with Andre Taylor is impressively intuitive so if the pair of them are selected together, it’s worth keeping an eye on. Jane has reiterated his passion for the All Blacks and he will fight hard to keep his jersey. So who are the other options out wide?


The Chiefs’ Lelia Masaga has been in sparkling attacking form, with 5 tries in 7 appearances. His willingness to come off his wing in search of the ball has been eye-catching, and his intelligent trail running has led to several scores. His ability to dougie is also top-class! He was capped by against Italy back in 2009, so has some international history. Elsewhere, Zac Guildford of the Crusaders looks to have put his drinking problems behind him for now. The 23-year-old has plenty of time to redeem himself but will hope for a swift return to the All Blacks set-up. He is a talented attacking force.

Hosea Gear of the Highlanders was unlucky to miss out on the World Cup Squad last year. While he has only notched 1 try in 10 games so far this season, his physical power has been striking. He will be desperate to add to his 8 international caps. 21-year-old Julien Savea is in his second season with the Hurricanes and his role in part of a talented back-line makes him worth keeping in mind too. Jane and Kahui have done enough to keep their places, but if Hansen looks to experiment, there are options.

Similarly, there is plenty of competition for the centre slots. Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith have been the best midfield partnership in the world for some years now, but there is a strong possibility of it being broken up, with Nonu’s place in question. Smith’s form and leadership in captaining the Hurricanes has been nothing short of brilliant. He has led by example in his typically subtle way. He’s a world-class outside centre and the only thing between him and the 13 jersey is Robbie Fruean.


The beastly Crusaders man has picked up where he left off last season. He has been almost unstoppable in attack, with 6 tries in 10 starts. At 6’3″ and around 110kg, he is a wrecking ball. Question marks remain over his defensive reading and his distribution. Those worries, along with his phenomenal ability with ball-in-hand, have led to speculation that his future may lie on the wing. Wherever he lines out, if he does play this summer, Ireland will have to chop him low and early.

At 12, there’s another difficult decision to be made. Nonu has been New Zealand’s inside centre since 2008 but the Chiefs’ Sonny Bill Williams has been one of the most effective players in Super Rugby this season. His physicality, ability to break the gain-line and sumptuous offloading skills have been impossible to ignore. He can’t do much more to earn selection.

Nonu has been part of a weak Blues team, who have lost all but 1 of their 10 fixtures. While no one stands out in a team like that, Nonu hasn’t shown the leadership you’d expect. He has looked a little disinterested at times, and his decision-making has been poor. That said, Nonu in the black jersey is a different proposition. His imposing strength will always keep him in consideration.

Ali Williams & Ma'a Nonu

Will Nonu retain the no. 12 jersey? (c) Geof Wilson.

The latest from New Zealand is the possibility of Dan Carter lining out at 12, as he has been doing for the Crusaders in recent weeks. Carter is still feeling the effects of the groin injury which denied him World Cup glory. While he’s fit enough to start games, he still can’t place-kick without pain. That’s meant a shift out to midfield, with Tom Taylor playing at 10 and taking the shots from the tee. Hansen has stated that Carter is first-choice outhalf, but if he still can’t kick by June then he would consider him at 12. The level of competition New Zealand have in midfield is enviable!

If Carter doesn’t play at outhalf, then Aaron Cruden will almost certainly be the man to run the show. He has been superb in leading the Chiefs to the top of the table, place-kicking well and even chipping in with two tries. His attacking game appears to have developed rapidly, and the 23-year-old is playing with justifiable confidence. At just over 80kg, he is slight, but he’s brave and the All Blacks have enough beef elsewhere to compensate.

At scrumhalf, there are plentiful options too. Piri Weepu was the man at the World Cup, but he has not had a good season so far. Part of the Blues dismal form, Weepu has looked badly out of shape even by his own standards. That wouldn’t be an issue if his form was better, but he has been benched on several occasions and his even his own teammates have taken issue with his condition. He has shown several glimpses of his playmaking ability around the fringes, but not consistently enough for a World Cup winner.

Piri Weepu

Piri Weepu has been part of a struggling Blues side. (c) Geof Wilson.

Andy Ellis has been ever-present for the Crusaders and has been reliable as ever. If Weepu is dropped, then Ellis looks to be the man to take over at 9. Behind him, there is some exciting young talent waiting in the wings. TJ Perenara has burst onto the scene in his first season of Super Rugby. 5 tries in 9 appearances are the obvious highlight, but it’s the 20-year-old’s confidence and decision making that have stood out. Such has been his importance to the Hurricanes, Perenara has been pulled from next month’s Junior World Cup.

At the Chiefs, Tawera Kerr-Barlow is also in his first full season of Super Rugby. The 21-year-old has been equally impressive in the Chiefs’ strong run of form. His sniping game is equal to Perenara’s. This summer may have come too early for the young scrum-halves but New Zealand finally look like they have unearthed some potentially world-class options at 9. Aaron Smith of the Highlanders is another who shouldn’t be discounted. The 23-year-old’s passing is excellent and he has already been capped for the Maoris.

It’s clear that the All Blacks have a frightening number of options across the backline. Personally, I’d go for a starting line-up of:  9 – Perenara 10 – Carter/Cruden 11 – Masaga 12- SBW 13 – C. Smith 14 – Jane 15 – Taylor. If you’ve been watching Super Rugby, or even if you haven’t, please leave a comment with the backline you think the All Blacks should or will go for. Who would you least like to see lining up opposite Sexton, O’Driscoll and Kearney? Only 4 weeks left, I for one cant wait!


Photos courtesy: Geof Wilson, Geoff Trotter.

The Plight of Irish 7s

Land Rover Dubai Rugby Sevens 2010  35

The Irish flag is not being flown at events like the Dubai Sevens on the IRB World Series. (c) landrovermena.

The following is a guest blog by Cian Aherne.

As the last ball sailed into touch in the Shamrock Warriors’ semi final of the Kinsale 7s, meaning they missed out on the final by one score, one couldn’t help but think the IRFU were breathing a sigh of relief. Another chance for promotion of the game of 7s in Ireland gone, another chance for a summer’s 7s funding disappeared and another reason to get 7s off the ground in this country down the drain.

No one sees that the Shamrocks were playing against a fully funded Susie’s Exiles team who had several fringe English 7s players on their side, no one sees that they were made up of AIL players, 90% of whom had never played 7s before, and no one sees that they had actually convincingly beaten every other team in the tournament (including another fully funding touring British side). To think that this group of AIL players, who had only met for the first time on Saturday morning, were as close to winning in Kinsale as an almost fully professional Irish 7s team 4 seasons earlier, shows the enormous potential for a cheap but competitive Irish 7s squad.

Because Ireland have not entered a 7s team in this year’s European Championships, 2013 will see the first 7s World Cup, since it’s inception in 1993, without an Irish team. This is a colossal step backwards despite the fact that 7s has now become an Olympic sport, that Irish rugby greats like Alan Quinlan, Malcolm O’Kelly and Denis Hickie have endorsed the game, that Matt Williams has written a letter to the Taoiseach pleading its economic merits, and that Ireland now has an official 7s club.

The last 7s World Cup and IRB World Series have shone further light on Ireland’s potential. In the European Championships, 4 years ago this summer, Ireland came within extra time and sudden death of beating the Welsh 7s team in Denmark. Between then and the World Cup a year later, Ireland met for a couple of weeks training, changed 90% of their team and were knocked out in the group stages. Wales, on the other hand, had taken part in the World Series, kept most of the same players and went on to win the World Cup.

USA Sevens

Kenya have a successful 7s team in the IRB World Series. They sit 11th coming into the final leg in London this weekend. (c) Chris Dickey.

The IRFU maintain that Ireland cannot compete at the same level as other national 7s teams yet at almost every major tournament they’ve entered, Ireland have taken scalps over seasoned 7s sides without having had a regular 7s team themselves (France and Samoa in 1993, Portugal in 1997, Tonga in 2005 and Australia in 2009). You could argue that Ireland don’t have the resources of the player base to compete in the World Series like New Zealand, England and South Africa but surely we have as much funding and players as the likes of Scotland, Wales, Australia, Samoa and Fiji.

A common myth about Irish 7s is the lack of funding to be competitive. Let’s make this clear, the IRB pay for teams’ accommodation and travel to World Series events. That means all the IRFU would have to pay for is a coaching team to travel. Players could either be paid through their existing provincial contracts or, as I’m sure is the case with the majority of club players, not be paid at all. We don’t need full time professional 7s players to compete, the majority of the Australian 7s team, who recently won the Japan 7s leg of the World Series and the London leg in 2010, are amateur players playing at the same standard as the AIL in Ireland. Ireland currently only have 4 player bases in the 4 provinces, a 7s squad could offer an extremely cheap fifth.

If the Shamrock Warriors can get a group of Irish club players together on a one-off basis to compete against and beat seasoned 7s semi-pros from the UK then the IRFU can get the best Irish club players together to compete on a world stage. In fact, they are already doing this with the Club International side who have beaten the English Counties team on 3 of the last 4 occasions. Here again is a demonstration of the funding myth.

The Irish Clubs team recently brought together 30 players and coaching staff for 2 international clubs matches. They beat Scotland in Dublin but the result of the second match was not even broadcast on the IRFU website. If the IRFU can afford to pay for 30 players and coaching staff to fly to England, to kit them out, feed them, stay in a hotel for the duration and not even put the result of the game on their website then surely they can afford for less than half of that amount of players to travel to at least one leg of the IRB World Series.

National Guard sponsorship of USA Rugby

The majority of the Australian 7s team, who recently won the Japan 7s leg of the World Series, are amateur players playing at the same standard as the AIL in Ireland. (c) The National Guard.

Furthermore, at the 7s European Championships and World Cup in 2008 and 2009, when Ireland were eventually knocked out and encouraged to walk their lap of honour, in spite of never having played these circuits before, there were thousands of fans in the stadiums waving the green, white and gold of Ireland. Ireland is a popular country worldwide and no more so within the festival atmosphere of a 7s tournament. A touring Irish side would offer massive financial windfall in terms of Irish kit sold and the potential for an Irish stop on the IRB circuit.

The IRFU’s current stance is that they are trying to promote 7s from a grass root level with provincial 7s tournaments. These have been a flop. They’ve been hosted the weekend after the club league has finished, have seen little, if any, first choice club players playing and most of the top clubs have not even entered teams. Players are not motivated to play if they don’t see potential for success with shabbily run tournaments on the weekend after a long season and no national team to aspire to. It’s a disservice to Irish rugby players that there is an Olympic sport at their doorstep but they are not being given the opportunity to represent their country.

The top 7s countries, such as England and New Zealand, have national 7s series’ that top club players are motivated to play in because they know, if they’re good enough, they’ll be selected for the national side and possibly go on to gain professional contracts. Whether it’s seen as a viable option in itself or a feeder system for professional Irish teams, the potential for the success of 7s in Ireland is endless. To promote 7s in Ireland, a team needs to be entered in the World Series for even 2 or 3 legs a year.

That would give young Irish players a carrot to chase, a reason to take part in provincial tournaments and pick up vital competitive 7s experience with the chance of actually being scouted and picked for their country. As the IRB Series ends in London this weekend, the goal for the IRFU has to be to enter a team in as many of the circuit’s legs next year as possible.

Final food for thought, a list of senior Ireland internationals who have also played for the Irish 7s team: Eric Elwood, Mick Galway*, Paddy Johns, Denis McBride, Vinnie Cunningham, Alain Rolland, Richard Wallace*, Jonathon Bell, David Humphreys, Denis Hickie*, Niall Woods, Eric Miller*, Niall Malone, Ben Cronin, Kieron Dawson, Aidan McCullen, Conor McPhillips, Matt Mostyn, David Quinlan, James Topping, Niall Ronan, Tomás O’Leary*, Kieran Campbell, Felix Jones, Darren Cave, Brian Carney, Ian Keatley, Keith Earls* and Chris Henry (* = Lions Tourist).


Get following the Shamrock Warriors on Twitter – @ShamrockW7s


Photos courtesy: Chris Dickey, landrovermena, The National Guard.

Leinster Reaping Benefits of Backroom


Kearney’s strong return from a serious knee injury shows the strength of Leinster’s backroom staff. (c) Ken Bohane.

Leinster’s squad update on their website yesterday today told a familiar story. Or rather, it told no story at all. As has become a commonplace occurrence, there were “no fresh injury concerns”. Some might put it down to luck that Leinster have remained largely free of the niggly injuries that are normally standard for any squad at this late stage of the season. However, it has been the province’s squad rotation and intelligent injury management that should be congratulated.

There’s no need to go into the quality and depth of the Leinster squad in any great detail as it’s been widely acknowledged elsewhere. Let’s all simply commend the academy for the quality of player they are regularly producing and also to Joe Schmidt, and Michael Chieka before him, for giving these young players a chance to play. The combination of the two factors has led to genuine depth in Leinster, allowing Schmidt to make wholesale changes week-to-week without affecting his side’s win ratio, and thus sparing his front-liners from overuse injuries and fatigue.

The depth of Leinster’s squad and their backroom’s intelligence in knowing when a player needs a rest go hand-in-hand. For any rugby geeks, this fascinating article by Steve Hamm is well worth checking out. It’s highly likely that Leinster operate a similar analytics system in relation to injury prevention. You may recall certain Leinster players speaking of how the coaches are aware of when to ease individuals’ training programmes depending on how the player is feeling.

The quality of players like Madigan and McFadden, who aren’t first-choice, allows Leinster to rotate. (c) Ken Bohane.

While Munster have suffered with a long injury list throughout the season, Leinster have more often than not had close to a full squad to choose from. This may partly be down to luck, and misfortune on Munster’s part, but it’s also attributable to the good work of Leinster’s backroom staff. Jason Cowman and Daniel Tobin are the men in charge of the squad’s Strength & Conditioning. They are clearly doing a fantastic job, as Leinster always look stronger and fitter than their opposition.

Physiotherapists James Allen and Gareth Farrell, Nutritionist Emma McCruden and Masseur Mike Thompson all play key parts too. The role of Stephen Smith, the squad’s Rehabilitation Coach, is particularly interesting. In his own words, his job is to “assess injury from start to finish. Look at what an individual needs to do to be able to play again”.  The return of Brian O’Driscoll months sooner than expected after shoulder surgery suggests that Smith is excellent in his line of work.

Likewise, the return of Rob Kearney from a serious knee injury was impressive. Smith’s work as Rehab Coach, along with Cowman and Tobin’s contributions, meant Kearney returned from injury a better athlete and player than before. Kevin McLaughlin is another who suffered a knee injury that had the potential to diminish his power. He returned stronger too. Luke Fitzgerald would seem to be the exception to the rule, but if he stays with Leinster, you would have confidence in the staff’s ability to help him recuperate from his long string of injuries.

Rhys Ruddock is a fine example of the physically match-ready players which the Leinster Academy produces. (c) Ken Bohane.

We go back to the depth of Leinster’s squad and how this is hugely important in maintaining success even when the front-line players need to be rested. Again, the less-lauded backroom staff deserve praise. Academy Manager Colin McEntee oversees the whole operation to great effect. It doesn’t need to be argued that Leinster’s Academy is producing the highest amount of physically match-ready young players in Ireland. Much of this is down to the likes of Academy S&C Coach Tom  Turner, Bryan Cullen with the Sub-Academy and Dave Fagan with the Underage teams.

It goes even deeper. McEntee oversees the Elite Player Development programme which works with players from the age of 15. Girvan Dempsey and Wayne Mitchell are two of the Officers in charge at this level. Getting their hands on kids at that age, and introducing them to the Leinster ethos, can only be a good thing.

In Joe Schmidt, Leinster have a world-class coach. In the likes of O’Driscoll, Sexton, O’Brien, Kearney, Nacewa and Thorn they have a group of world-class players. It also appears that the world-class ability in Leinster reaches all the way into their impressive backroom staff.


Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane.

Here’s to Wally

David Wallace another magical performance copy

Wallace in full flow as Munster beat Leinster in the 2011 Magner League final. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

David Wallace is the latest Ireland legend to announce his retirement. I thought I’d share one or two memories of his days with Munster and Ireland. Hopefully, you have a few that you can contribute too. If you do, leave a comment at the end of the piece and share the love for Wally!

My first ever Munster match was a Heineken Cup pool game in 2001 against Castres. Munster won 21-11 thanks to a try from Anthony Foley and 11 points from the reliable boot of ROG. But it was David Wallace’s performance that stood out. He was named Man of the Match for what was fast becoming a typically powerful display. I still have the match programme and I wrote in ‘MOTM’ beside his name, along with a little star!

It was immediately clear to my uneducated rugby eye that Wallace was a genuine star. He would be called up to the Lions tour later in the year to replace the injured Lawrence Dallaglio. Of course he scored a try there too. The Limerick man was almost impossible to stop from five metres out. As soon as Munster or Ireland got within sniffing distance of the tryline, there was only one man they looked for.

David Wallace dives for the line copy

A familiar sight for Irish rugby fans. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

Wallace’s power in contact was second to none. As his career progressed, and his thighs grew ever larger, he became harder and harder to stop. His try-scoring record was prolific for a back-row. He scored 40 tries in his 203 appearances for Munster. For Ireland, he dotted down 12 times in his 72 caps. It may not read as particularly impressive, but to give a quick comparison, centre Gordon D’Arcy has 7 in 68 caps. Wally’s pace and freakish strength made him a serious finisher.

Anyone who ever saw Wallace live, in the flesh, will know just how strong he was. The collisions he was involved in were nearly always accompanied by a sickening thud. His ability to accelerate into contact should not be underestimated. Any rugby player will tell you how hard it is to consciously do. The natural instinct is often to simply accept a tackle. Good coaches constantly remind their players to accelerate into the contact zone and battle to stay on their feet. Wallace didn’t need to be told. He relished the physical battle and always burst into tacklers.

One of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever been at was that famous bonus point win over Sale in Thomond Park in 2006. It was into injury time when Wallace picked from a ruck and strolled over for the try that guaranteed Munster’s progress. Interestingly, there was no one in front of him that time, but if there had been they wouldn’t have stopped him. It was one of the days where I truly understood just how special Munster rugby was and Wallace played the starring role.


Wallace never accepted the tackle, always fighting to stay on his feet. (c) Liam Coughlan.

He wasn’t simply a bosh merchant though. Wally was an intelligent player with a phenomenal work-rate. His support play from 7 was underrated. He scored plenty of tries by simply being in the right place at the right time, the mark of a great player. His fitness was unquestionable, with the big carries and hits coming for the full 80 minutes. On top of that, he always came across as good craic and a nice guy.

Two Heineken Cups, two Magners Leagues, a Celtic Cup, three Triple crowns, a Rugby World Cup, a Grand Slam and two Lions tours. That says it all really. A legend of Irish rugby.



Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan.

Your In-Depth Guide to Rob Penney

Thomond Park

(c) Liam Coughlan.

Like many fans, I hadn’t heard much about Rob Penney before his name was linked to the Munster job. So what qualifies the 48-year-old New Zealander for the job? It appears that his sustained success at provincial level in New Zealand, coupled with a strong record of youth development is what swayed the ‘powers that be’ in Munster.

Based out of the Burnside Rugby Club in Christchurch, Penney’s representative playing career consisted of 101 games for Canterbury between 1985 and 1994. He was a No.8 and captained the province for the ’92 and ’93 seasons. In 1991, he trialled for the All Blacks. A certain Zinzan Brooke was the man in possession of the No.8 jersey at that stage though. The likes of AJ Whetton, Michael Jones and Mark Carter made the back-row a fiercely competitive place and Penney missed out on an international cap.

Following his retirement in ’94, Penney took a year away from the game before moving into the back-room side of things as Chief Executive of the Marlborough Rugby Union in ’96. Penney stayed with the regional side until ’99. Interestingly, the Marlborough Union went on to be amalgamated with the Nelson Bay Union in 2005. The product would later become one of Penney’s ITM Cup rivals – the Tasman Makos.

’99 saw Penney move to the position of Head of Provincial Development for Canterbury. This role was basically the equivalent of the Academy Manager role in  Munster. Penney’s job brief involved developing and producing young players for the Canterbury ITM Cup (then called the National Provincial Championship) side, and eventually the Crusaders Super Rugby side. In 2003, Penney moved up to the role of Assistant Coach under Aussie McLean. He continued to work hard at the development of youngsters despite the promotion.


Penney’s Canterbury side on the way to another win in the 2010 ITM Cup. Luke Romano (with ball) and Sean Maitland (right) both came through Canterbury’s system to play Super Rugby with the Crusaders. (c) BigBadaboom0.

The NPC trophies won in 2001, under current All Blacks boss Steve Hansen, and 2004, under current All Blacks defence coach McLean, featured many of the youngsters Penney had worked with. The likes of Corey Flynn, Caleb Ralph, Norm Maxwell and even Leinster’s scrum coach Greg Feek came through at Canterbury during Penney’s time in charge, going on to represent the All Blacks. Clearly, the Burnside man was making big contributions to Canterbury’s success.

This was recognised when Penney was drafted into the Crusaders Super 12 coaching team in 2005. Canterbury are basically a feeder region for the Crusaders, along with the Buller, Mid-Canterbury, South Canterbury, Tasman and West Coast unions. This was a definite step up for Penney’s coaching career. His main duty was the Crusaders’ lineout. Working with a pack that included Richie McCaw, Reuben Thorn and Chris Jack would have made it an enjoyable experience.

The Crusaders won the 2005 Super 12, beating the Waratahs 35-25 in the Grand Final. Penney’s contribution was again apparent and Canterbury recognised it by appointing him Head Coach in 2006. It took Penney two years to build the side in his own vision. By 2008 the NPC had become the Air New Zealand Cup and Canterbury had reclaimed the crown for the first time since ’04, after a gripping 7-6 win over Wellington in the final. Penney’s record of bringing young players through once again paid dividends as Kieran Read captained the side and Colin Slade was top points scorer.

For the next four years the success continued, bringing four consecutive titles. The tournament changed sponsor in 2010 to become the ITM Cup, but the winning mentality at Canterbury remained. During the 2009 final, a 28-20 win over Wellington, another academy product, Stephen Brett, made a big impact at outhalf. In the same team were Munster’s Pete Borlase and Casey Laulala. In 2010, young academy products again made the difference, with Ryan Crotty and Matt Todd scoring tries in the 33-13 win over Waikato.

Billy Holland holds the B & I trophy aloft copy

Penney will be expected to develop Munster’s young players, who won the B&I Cup this month. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

The 2011 final saw a solid 12-3 win, again over Waikato. Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor both burst into the side in the number 10 jersey during the season. Both have since progressed to the Crusaders set-up. Taylor’s recent form has meant Dan Carter being shifted to inside centre. The major point is that Penney has a genuine ability and record at bringing through outhalfs (outhalves?). That bodes well for Munster as Ronan O’Gara approaches the final years of his career.

His work with young player development was recognised by the the NZRU in November of 2011, when they appointed him Head Coach of the U20 All Blacks, replacing Ulster-bound Mark Anscombe. Penney has committed himself to taking the U20 side to the Junior World Championship in South Africa this coming June. The exclusions of Chiefs flanker Sam Cane and Hurricanes scrumhalf TJ Perenara mean it’s the first time New Zealand will defend their title without any players returning from the previous season. They will still be amongst the favourites.

Penney is expected to arrive in Munster in July for the start of a new era at the province. Anthony Foley is to continue as Forwards Coach, while an announcement on a new Backs Coach is expected soon. It’s clear what Penney brings: an undeniably strong record of developing young players; lineout organisation skills; and most importantly, a winning mentality. His job over the next two years is to get Munster back to where they belong.


ITM Cup Final 2010 Highlights:


ITM Cup Final 2011 Highlights:


Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan, Liam Coughlan, BigBadaboom0.