Thursday 22 March 2018

Foley cannot simply revert to outdated 'Munster way'

New boss knows game has moved on since his heyday as he absorbs lessons from Penney reign

Rob Penney, right, had success in developing and bringing through a number of forwards at Munster
Rob Penney, right, had success in developing and bringing through a number of forwards at Munster

Michael McCarthy

It feels like more than two years. The Rob Penney era in Munster had so many memorable moments, witnessed so much change, suffered so many disappointments, surely it couldn't have all happened in just two years?

Penney's reign ended in Glasgow last Friday night, and the game in many ways encapsulated his stint down south. The eternal Munster fight was there, the hope to the last breath, but ultimately, they just fell short.

Going wide from 80 yards in the last two minutes summed things up nicely.

For all the criticism of Penney altering the Munster brand of rugby, it has to be acknowledged he did adapt the plan when it was failing. It's probably as much to the players' credit as anything, but by the Harlequins game in last year's Heineken Cup quarter-final, it was basically back to 'the Munster way'.

This year, he made it a hybrid of the two styles, and it seemed to be getting there. Perhaps in another year, it would have clicked.

He has also had success in developing and bringing through players, especially in the forwards.

The likes of Dave Kilcoyne, James Cronin and Tommy O'Donnell have become first-teamers and thrived in the last two years.

The retirement of the irreplaceable Ronan O'Gara, a backline nowhere near the quality his predecessors enjoyed, and a severely depleted player budget are just some of the issues Penney had to handle.

Despite all of this, Munster have still competed with the best. They were the last Irish team standing in the Heineken Cup in both of his years at the helm. Unfortunately, silverware never followed.

While two semi-final defeats in France to the two best teams in Europe might seem like success on paper, not too many fans are mourning the departure of Penney, and that's because the man they feel should have got the job last time is waiting in the wings.

Hopes will be high for the Anthony Foley era and rightly so.

All of his credentials suggest he's the perfect choice for this group of players.

But he won't have a magic wand. There's still an O'Gara-sized hole in the team, the starting midfield needs to be replaced and the budget issues are likely to worsen.

On the pitch, Foley will no doubt make us believe we're going back to 'the Munster way' and there'll almost certainly be elements of that applied, but he'll know the game is changing too quickly to go backwards.

The Munster style will evolve again but it won't revert to the old way. Lessons will be learned from Penney's two years, both good and bad. If Foley's time is as eventful as his predecessor's, at least it will be interesting.

Irish Independent

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