Rob Penney takes heart from progress under his watch
Coach gives impassioned plea for winger Zebo to be accepted for who he is
Munster’s Simon Zebo training in Limerick yesterday. Photograph: Inpho
Although ill inclined to discuss contractual matters, Rob Penney was altogether more effusive when reflecting on the progress of so many young players under his watch, and gave an impassioned plea on behalf of Simon Zebo for the player to be accepted for who he was.
With his time at Munster now confined to an unsatisfactory two year tenure – Penney had initially declared it would be a “three to five year job” – the departing head coach denied there was any additional pressure on him to extend his stay until the end of May.
“I can only do what I can do,” he said with a smile. “Whether I am here for 10 minutes or two hours I’ll give it 100 per cent. So nothing has changed. I always try to do my best and ensure this place is a little better, potentially, when I leave than when I started. Whether it is or not I don’t know but other people will judge that.”
That Munster have won 16 out of 19 games this season reflects favourably on Penney, though he took particular satisfaction from the progress made by the players. “That’s what’s exciting for me. Every week we see progress in them. So I think the coaching staff have done a great job with this group and got them in a place where – there is a bit of water to go under the bridge yet – but who knows, there could be some opportunities to contest something a bit later on.”
Citing “the disappointment” of last season’s Heineken Cup semi-final and not reaching the Pro12 play-offs, Penney said: “sometimes the darkest moments are before the dawn. We said last year there was going to be a bit of a pit that the players were going to go through.”
This hardened his “admiration for the group” and “if it’s not this year I think it’s not far away from being a bit special here for a while.”
Tommy O’Donnell and Felix Jones have returned from Irish duty, as has the fit-again Donnacha Ryan for this Friday’s visit of Zebre to Musgrave Park, with Penney confident Ryan could be an option for Twickenham. Damien Varley (concussion) might return next week but Niall Scannell could be out for eight weeks due to a hyper extended elbow.
With Duncan Casey and Ger Slattery thus their only fit hookers, Munster have brought in the 22-year-old UL Bohs hooker Kevin O’Byrne, and may look at signing the New Zealand hooker Quentin MacDonald.