Space the final frontier in Penney’s enterprise
Identifying space and using it key to what the Munster coach is trying to achieve
“It is what it is,” says Penney, who admits that experiencing the Munster-Leinster matches was one of his “biggest learnings” from last season.
“What I love about the derby matches is their intensity. It’s right up there with Test rugby when the Irishmen are playing each other. It’s fantastic. It’s ferocious and it’s as good as any derby games I’ve ever been involved in back in New Zealand.
“You’ve basically got a team full of Test players in Leinster playing a team obviously with some great players in it that have some Test experience, but also some peripheral guys busting their ass trying to make the breakthrough. So I think Saturday night is really exciting.”
Next week comes Edinburgh away in their opening Heineken Cup pool game, followed by Gloucester’s first visit to Thomond Park for a decade and 11 years on from the “Miracle Match”.
With Perpignan back-to-back in December, those opening games almost have a must-win look to them.
“I thought in last year’s group our team did a magnificent job of getting through the pool,” says Penney. “When you look at Racing, you look at Saracens and Edinburgh were semi-finalists the year before, for that team to get through . . . I think it was the first time in over 100 ERC games Rog and Paulie didn’t play in a match, and I don’t think the team got enough credit for last year’s effort to get through. That was a very difficult pool.
“This year’s pool is equally challenging for different reasons. Edinburgh right now will be hurting, they’ll be hurting after last year, they’ll be hurting about their start to this year and they’ll be looking at the Heineken as ‘right, this is a clean slate for us, we can get something out of this season if we do well’.
“So when we go up there first round, they’ll be wanting to rip our heads off, and then obviously we’ve got Gloucester, and there’s a lot of history and some important matches between Munster and Gloucester over the years, and one in particular.
“They are a side that have a lot of talent, particularly in their backline, that are very dangerous if we give them space.
“Perpignan are doing a great job in the French competition, and any time you go and play a French side . . . so without trying to be long-winded, if you ever think for a moment, ‘Jeez, we might have a lesser quality pool’ you’re going to get your head bitten off.
“It’s just the nature of this competition. So I learned that last year,” he admits. “Big time,” he adds, laughing.
In the second year of a two-year contract, for Penney to leave a true legacy this season Munster have to show signs of further progress. Evidence of that over the next three weeks would be helpful.