MARCUS HORAN HAS added his name to the clamour suggesting that Anthony Foley succeed Rob Penney as the next Munster head coach.
Horan, who played in the Munster pack with Foley for over a decade, believes the province’s forwards coach is in pole position to take up the reins once Penney departs in the summer.
Horan told TheScore.ie, “Penney’s departure came as a complete surprise to me. The rumours were rife in Limerick that he had signed a new deal a few weeks’ back. I was delighted with that but they turned out to be false.
“When a group has been doing well, as Munster have been of late, for this to happen is a setback. It seems that Rob has made his decision based on his family and I can understand that. He has one son that remained in college in New Zealand and his other son is finishing up in CBC in Cork this summer. If he could not see himself staying long-term then maybe it is the right time to move closer to home.”
He added, “Axel Foley is someone who can step in straight away. He obviously put himself forward the last time. He has contributed hugely to how well Munster are going at the moment.
“I presume they will advertise abroad like the last time. There will be a lot of guys eager to take up the job. The names of Ronan O’Gara and Mike Prendergast, I’m sure, will come up. Anything is possible but the guys at Munster said ‘He’s not ready’ about Axel last time so the same may apply to Mike and ROG too. You have to serve your apprenticeship first.”
Horan also mentioned former teammates Mick O’Driscoll and Denis Leamy in relation to a new-look coaching staff at the province.
Horan hung up his rugby boots at the end of last season and is now working with the province to identify the next generation of young props. “To say I enjoyed my last year at Munster would not be honest,” he said. “I wanted to be playing more but with the young players he had coming through, that is the way it had to be. In my dealings with Rob, though, he was never anything other than a gentleman.”
He believes Penney was dealt a tough hand when inheriting a Munster side that had lost veterans such as Denis Leamy, Alan Quinlan, John Hayes and David Wallace all in the space on two seasons. When it comes to calling the New Zealander’s time in Ireland as a success, Horan hesitates. He said:
It depends on how you gauge success. Some of it is reflected on the players he has brought through but when you set high standards for your team, as Munster and Leinster have in recent years, then you will be judged on silverware. You can see with Manchester United, under David Moyes, at the minute, everyone is chomping at the bit to criticise them. Trying to keep that winning trend going is one of the hardest things you will ever do in sport.
“There might have been the odd bump along the road but Munster are in a good place and Penney will take some pleasure, I’m sure, in those young players starring for Munster and Ireland in years to come.”
Horan, who played in the Grand Slam-winning triumph over Wales in 2009, believes the ‘one weak-link’ in the Welsh backline is their out-half Rhys Priestland. Other than that, he says, Ireland will have their hands full from the likes of Mike Phillips and George North.
Horan celebrates the 2009 Grand Slam win with Paul O’Connell. David Davies/PA Wire
“The two sides have a lot of history,” he says, “but Ireland are in a better place than Wales after the first week. The pressure will be high on them to win the first three-in-a-row but they are boosted by the return of Sam Warburton.”
As a scrummaging aficionado, Horan believes the changes to the scrum engagement and the lack of an initial shove have diluted the impact of players such as Adam Jones and Mike Ross. “It has affected the big guys. Mike has always been a hard worker and he is trying to find a way to get that edge again. The new rules are benefiting power athletes like Cian Healy whereas the bigger guys used to rely on the hit to gain momentum.
“It will be a right battle up front but if things go wrong at the scrum this game could be decided by the boot. Hopefully it will be a free-flowing game that Ireland can take by a score.”
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