THE IMPRESSION OVER the past months has been that Rob Penney had fully won over the players at Munster, with commitment to his attacking ambition becoming widespread.
Now the province are facing the prospect of starting from scratch as the New Zealander has accepted an offer to move away from Ireland, having turned down a one-year contract extension with Munster. Speaking from Ireland camp this afternoon, Paul O’Connell admitted he would have liked to see Penny staying on.
“Rob’s obviously been there for two years, it would have been great if he’d stayed for another one. That’s life, I mean from what I gather it’s a family decision. You can’t argue with that. I know he has a kid who’s in university in New Zealand, he has two kids that probably want to go to university there.”
While O’Connell did not reveal where Penney will move to at the conclusion of this season, he did comment that it would be “closer” to New Zealand. The 34-year-old lock says he was not privy to the details of Munster’s offer to Penney, meaning he could not comment on whether or not it was a fair one.
I don’t know what the situation was with regards to the contract. That’s obviously a conversation between himself and Garret [Fitzgerald, Munster's CEO]. It doesn’t have a lot to do with me. I know they were eager for him to stay and I think it’s a pity he isn’t staying.”
The Ireland captain stressed his belief that the departures of Penney and backs coach Simon Mannix at the season’s end will not have any major effect on the rest of this campaign at Munster, as they sit top of the table in the Pro12 and face a Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse in April.
“Knowing Rob and Simon the way I do, I think they’ll be very professional until the end of the season. I don’t think it’ll change how they do things, they’ll probably put an impetus into how they do things. I’ve only spoken to a small number of [Munster] players, but everyone appreciates that when you have a family, these decisions are important.”
Next in line
In terms of Munster’s succession plan for the head coaching position, O’Connell underlined that current forwards specialist Anthony Foley will “put his hand up” for the job, and his candidacy will indeed be difficult for the province to overlook.
However, O’Connell also points out that many other coaches would be enthusiastic about the opportunity to take over at Munster.
“With qualification for the Heineken Cup quarter-final and top of the Rabo league, and a lot of good young players coming through, there’ll be a lot of interest in the job. Hopefully that’ll be a good thing for Munster.”