Tag Archives: Rob Penney

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.

Foley and Umaga – Risk or Reward?

Red Army

What next for Munster? (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

This week has seen Munster interview both Rob Penney and Tana Umaga for the Head Coach role at the province next season. An intelligent appointment will be absolutely crucial for Munster Rugby, especially as Ulster look to move above them in the pecking order of Irish clubs. Much has been made of Munster’s transitional state, but a smart move now will bring fresh ideas and a new impetus.

Tony McGahan has been criticised by factions of the Red Army throughout his time in charge. While I am in agreement with certain points of the dissent, I feel that the Australian has done a decent job. It’s unnecessary to go through the number of players who have moved on during his tenure at Munster. However, McGahan has done as good a job as anyone could have with the resources at his disposal. The manner in which Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Simon Zebo have become first-team players is particularly praiseworthy.

McGahan will move on, hopefully with a third Magners League winners’ medal to show for his work. After Munster’s loss to Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, it’s easy to suggest that the next coach will have a thankless job on his hands as Munster go backwards. However, they are still one of the most renowned clubs in the world. They have a huge fan base and, thanks to McGahan’s good work with the Academy, are now producing promising young players. Bringing Munster back to the pinnacle of European rugby would be an attractive challenge for any coach.

Cup Winners

Munster will be hoping to return to 2008's heights. (c) Martin Dobey.

Anthony Foley will retain his position as part of the province’s coaching staff, but whether he moves the position of Head Coach remains to be seen. He’s the clear favourite, but the fact that Munster have interviewed other candidates shows that they have doubts. Foley has no experience as a Head Coach. Many will highlight his undoubtedly good work as Forwards Coach, but that is a far more technical role. As pointed out by the Demented Mole, matching a more experienced figure such as Graham Henry or Ian McGeechan with Foley would make sense.

Do Penney or Umaga offer that crucial experience and know-how? Not particularly. Penney has a good track-record with the Canterbury ITM Cup provincial side, having won the tournament in each of the last four years. At the end of last year, he was appointed as the New Zealand U20 Head Coach, replacing Ulster-bound Mark Anscombe. Umaga’s coaching experience involves a stint with Toulon where he did more good on the pitch than off it as well as his current position in charge of ITM Cup side Counties Manukau Steelers, which began in December. Not the most impressive CV.

Rather than experience, what they would bring to Munster is a fresh approach and high levels of motivation. Both have plenty to prove as coaches and would be keen to make an impact in their first top-level roles. The word is that Penney specialises in coaching forwards, so that would appear to give Umaga an increased chance of employment at the province. The 74-times capped All Black would bring a new approach to Munster’s back play, something I would definitely welcome.

The Farewell Match

Umaga playing his final game for the Hurricanes in 2007. (c) Dean Pemberton.

As a player, Umaga was intelligent, skillful and aggressive. Looking at Munster’s backline options for next season – Murray, Stringer, O’Gara, Downey, Laulala, Earls, Zebo, Howlett, Jones, Murphy, Hurley, Hanrahan, Deasy, O’Dea and Barnes – it’s clear that there is lots of talent there for a new backs coach to work with. If Umaga can translate his playing style and ability into the realm of coaching, then Munster could be onto a real winner. It’s worth stressing that a great player does not automatically make a good coach though. Umaga represents a risk.

A coaching duo of Foley and Umaga looks the most likely outcome presently. In a dream world, Wayne Smith would have loved a shot at the Heineken Cup with Munster, but that’s almost certainly not going to happen. Both just 38, Foley and Umaga are relatively wet behind the ears in coaching terms. However, they will have raw motivation to bring Munster back to the forefront of European rugby. It’s worth remembering that McGahan has been at Munster since 2005, and even before succeeding Declan Kidney as Director of Rugby, he had a big say in how Munster played.

Foley and Umaga would be a breath of fresh air to the entire province. There are plenty of similarities between the pair. Both have 60+ caps for their country, 200+ caps for club/province and both retired in the ’07/08 season. These are guys who understand modern rugby. They are current and know what it’s like to be a professional player in the game today. Both come across as honest, to-the-point guys who don’t take any bullshit. While they lack top-level coaching experience, their appointments could be an exciting change for Munster.

*Who would you like to see take charge at Munster? Would a Foley/Umaga pairing work do you think? Or do they lack the required experience to be successful? Comment below with your views on where Munster should look to go with this appointment.


Photos courtesy: Dean Pemberton, Martin Dobey, Ivan O’Riordan.