“THIS IS ME,” says Rob Penney, opening up his wingspan and directing the gaze downwards to see his shorts, flip-flops and white socks combination.
He ended last weekend wearing less comfortable attire, a tuxedo of all things, while being presented with the Pro12 Coach of the Season award.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” He says of the gong, directing a glance to TheScore.ie after we had raised the spectre of unfair criticism that has accompanied his time in Ireland.
The barbs take the form of subtle mistrust, ingrained within every mention of that over-used word – ‘gameplan’ – before and after the majority of his 60 games in charge. As we detailed here the criticism does not come from these quarters , but it has been impossible to ignore.
When the chips have been down, Penney has been able to send his team out brimming with purpose, conviction and primed for battle. The problem is that performances such as his two Heineken Cup semi-finals have been all too infrequent high watermarks.
Yet again, Munster take a volatile form graph into a crucial knockout game tonight. Mercifully, this time they are not in France, but Scotstoun where Glasgow will be fully revved up and raring to finally pass the semi-final stage of this competition.
Year-on-year Gregor Townsend has been building an ever more accomplished, more threatening team and with home advantage they can not be written off as mere bridesmaids.
The Warriors are a team without stars, but with masses of intent. The big names they do possess have been given no special treatment by Townsend; Stuart Hogg omitted from the match-day 23 while last season’s eye-catching talent Niko Matawalu plays second fiddle to Chris Cusiter.
Doing the basics well has propelled the Warriors to this point of the season and they will have enough trust in those systems to attack Munster for the prize of a place in the Grand Final.
Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Oddly, both Munster and Glasgow have claimed victories away from home against one another this season; Munster’s early-season win in Scotstoun ending the Warriors’ unbeaten start to the campaign.
A repeat of that 6 – 13 away win would be very welcome indeed, but in the four years since the Celtic League moved to a playoff system not one of the eight semi-final fixtures have been won by the away team.
To end that run Munster will have to outmuscle Ali Kellock’s pack and limit the impact of Chris Fusaro on the deck. Munster’s back-line must be alert and efficient and every scoring opportunity must be taken advantage of.
In short, everything that was not achieved last weekend in Thomond Park against Ulster.
“We have to be good,” is Penney’s deliberately short response.
“We’re not a bad side when we play well. If we play well we’ll be in the hunt.”
If Munster do put themselves in the running and prevent the Warriors from bringing their winning streak to nine then it will put the Kiwi coach within touching distance of silverware to brighten up his departure to Japan.
Would that feel vindication after all the second guessing of his Canterbury vision?
“The criticism’s not a problem, it’s irrelevant. I’m irrelevant. It’s about the team succeeding and people within the team achieving their goals as individuals.
“Coaches come and go. If you’re focused on anything but the best interests of the team and the individuals within that team, then you’re in the wrong industry. It’s irrelevant in terms of my own aspirations.”
That’s Penney. Perfectly adaptable when it comes to his tactical approach, but he will proudly keep his personality and couldn’t-care-less dress sense just as they have always been.
Glasgow: Peter Murchie, Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Chris Cusiter: Ryan Grant, Dougie Hall. Jon Welsh; Jonny Gray. Al Kellock (Captain); Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro, Josh Strauss.
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Gordon Reid, Geoff Cross, Tim Swinson, Leone Nakarawa, Niko Matawalu, Ruaridh Jackson, Sean Lamont.
Munster: Felix Jones, Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley Captain, BJ Botha; Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell; CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Quentin MacDonald, James Cronin, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paddy Butler, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Andrew Conway.