So, it’s official. To our surprise, Axel hasn’t got the job, but will continue to earn his coaching spurs under Rob Penney for the next 2 years, at which point he will presumably get the big gig.
This makes Connacht the only Irish province that will not be coached by someone dismissed as an unheralded Kiwi next season – we can only hope Penney and Anscombe emulate Joe Schimdt’s considerable achievements at Leinster.
The first way to view Penney is as a sacrificial lamb who will get to soak up all the ire of the fans by continuing Ludd’s work of the last 18 months and retiring the Liginds one by one and then buggering off to let Axel take over once the newbies have been transitioned in. In the 2 years of his contract, Penney will be forced to retire Horan, Stakhanov, Leamy … and Radge. The first 3 should be easy, but O’Gara is unlikely to go quietly – apart from anything else, he is still head and shoulders above Ian Keatley or anyone else who is available for Munster.
However, we hope and suspect that his work at the Crusaders Academy may have been an important factor – the Munster academy is perceived as being behind Leinster and Ulster right now, and even Connacht have had more under-20 representatives in recent years. – some of the players who have come through from the Academy to the Super Rugby team in Penney’s time there are Owen Franks, the Whitelocks, Matt Todd, Kieran Read, Tyler Bleyendaal and Sean Maitland.
Or maybe it’s because he coached Peter Borlase in the 2009 Air NZ Cup (now ITM Cup) – if Munster can actually get the Kiwi Irishman on the pitch and playing it would save a hell of a lot of sweat once BJ gets kicked out.
Penney will be picking the rest of his coaching staff in the weeks to come. We note with interest that Brian Ashton is now a free man…..