Sherry more than a trifle pleased the Penney way is starting to pay off


Hooker relishing task of meeting Springboks-style Saracens challenge, writes GAVIN CUMMISKEY

Don’t be fooled by the Munster or Saracens jerseys, it’s going to look a lot like Canterbury versus the Springboks in Limerick on Saturday.

The English club will embrace the South African approach more readily than Munster adopt the free-flowing Canterbury style but that’s only because they have had more time to perfect their relentless territorial game.

In contrast, Munster’s progressive acceptance of the Rob Penney blueprint, which delivered four successive National Provincial Championship titles in New Zealand, is beginning to gain momentum.

It also helps that Saracens have nine South Africans on their roster, while Nils Mordt and Jacques Burger were born in Zimbabwe and Namibia respectively.

Three of the men born in South Africa – Brad Barritt, Mouritz Botha and Matt Stevens – have been naturalised and capped by England.

The Penney doctrine has forced Munster forwards, both young and old, to completely alter their mindset.

Take 24-year-old hooker Mike Sherry. Steeped in the ancient ways of the Munster pack sticking together and bludgeoning out a result, he must shelve the lessons of a childhood spent in Thomond Park.

Sherry described the new approach in gushing terms yesterday but at the start of the season he felt obliged to speak up. The movement demanded for the Canterbury/Penney system to work means forwards will find themselves out by the far touchline, miles from the safety of a ruck, forced to trust their skills and pluck pre-planned cross-kicks from the sky. All in the name of exploiting space. It’s the Canterbury way.


Sherry was under one of these bombs last weekend against Glasgow. “I didn’t think I was going to get to it. It is normally for the fella outside me, but it just bounced right for me. Unluckily, I went into touch a bit early.”

The mentality is gradually changing.

“It’s new. I haven’t spent that much time out on the wing before. Sometimes you feel like you are not working, which was a big concern of mine at the start of the year.”

Here lies the clash of philosophies. “Munster is obviously based on a huge work-rate and that was one of the points I made to Rob. I was panicking if I hadn’t hit a ruck in about four or five phases. He said, ‘Bide your time and the ball will come to you.’

“Sometimes you can work back in and other fellas can go out wide. We are not as rigid as we were at the start of the year. It’s working well.”

The English Premiership champions of two seasons ago have an association with South Africa dating back to one of Thomond Park’s most amazing nights.

The Ronan O’Gara-inspired 31-30 victory in June 2000, which many feel breathed new life into the Munster legend, was achieved at the expense of Saracens captain Francois Pienaar, who five years previously had led the Springboks to World Cup glory.


Sherry will be facing a South African hooker this Saturday, whether it be 2007 World Cup winning captain John Smit or the dynamic Schalk Brits. The likelihood is both will have a cut off him at some stage, with Brits expected to start.

“They have the best lineout in the competition so far. They have 23 out of 23 lineouts, which is impressive. That was a big area we have looked at.”

Brits was called up to the South Africa squad in November after injury to Bismarck du Plessis, arguably the best hooker in the world, but he was unable to remove Adriaan Strauss, cousin of Richardt, from the starting XV. Still, Brits is considered by many the best player in the English club game.

“You can see Brits is every where. He’s around the pitch, playing fullback, scrumhalf, outhalf, so he’s excellent in all areas. John Smit brings a huge set-piece game. He’s built like a prop, he’s played prop at international, scrummaging is a big area for him. Their lineout is the best in the competition so obviously they can both throw the ball.”

Is Brits’ all-action approach something Sherry aspires to?

“No, I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of player he is. Definitely, his skills, his feet, inter-linking with the backs, is something all players can learn from. He’s brilliant, one of the best in the world. He’s an extra forward and an extra back in his contribution all round the pitch.”

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