IT is vital that Munster do not allow the surprise departure of coach Rob Penney to disrupt their bid for glory on two fronts, according to former Irish international Denis Leamy.
The Munster legend said that the departure of Penney and his assistant Simon Mannix came as a huge shock, but he believes it is now essential that players park it to one side and concentrate on their bid for Heineken Cup and Pro12 glory.
"I don't think anyone saw this coming," said Leamy. "All the indications were that the contract would be extended and given the progress made, especially this season, I think Munster fans were looking forward to Rob Penney staying on."
Leamy had just departed the scene when Penney took over and with Munster top of the Pro12 and looking forward to a home Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse, he said it was crucial that speculation over the new coach did not impact on players.
"It can't be allowed to have any impact and I'm sure the players and management will go about their business in a professional way over the coming weeks and months. But it is a shock development," he said.
Munster said that terms had been agreed between the Munster Professional Games Committee and the IRFU over an extension to Penney's contract.
However, since then, another club – believed to be in Japan – had attracted Penney's attentions and had put an offer on the table that was more in line with his long-term plans.
CEO Garrett Fitzgerald praised Penney and backs coach Mannix for their work and said he was disappointed to see them leave.
"Rob has been a very positive influence on this Munster squad and management and we are disappointed to see him go as we had hoped that he would fulfil his third season.
"In developing the squad he has highlighted the strength and depth of the Munster panel, with the competition for places as high as ever," said Fitzgerald.
"I would also like to thank Simon for his work and commitment to the province, and we wish him all the best for the future.
"He has contributed to Munster's overall campaign and added great value to our coaching team."
The hunt will now begin to find Munster's next coach, with current forwards coach Anthony Foley – a strong contender when Penney got the job two years ago – the early favourite to take charge.