Sport Rugby

Friday 24 November 2017

Penney banking on ref talks to give Reds a fair deal

Kiwi demands explanation for penalty count as he backs troops to take home form on road

Conor Murray and Simon Zebo go through their paces during Munster's squad training session at the University of Limerick yesterday
Conor Murray and Simon Zebo go through their paces during Munster's squad training session at the University of Limerick yesterday
David Kelly

David Kelly

Munster had enough distractions to deal with at Thomond Park without a local pooch running riot during the Zen-like calm attending the place-kicking practice of Ronan O'Gara and Ian Keatley.

It brought to mind one of Declan Kidney's deliberate attempts to distract his players, when he donned a Fez and operated a remote-control car during a team meeting ahead of Munster's famous victory at Saracens over a decade ago.

Untroubled thoughts are foreign intruders in this current squad.

An injury crisis that includes some semblance of damage to every line of the team bar second-row and half-back – with key concerns surrounding BJ Botha, the entire back three and Keith Earls – seems to pretty much sum up the province's ill-fortune where mother nature is concerned.

Although now in charge of their own destiny in their qualification quest from Pool 1, despite their opening-day horror show in Paris, a wounded Saracens await with vengeful purpose this weekend at Vicarage Road.

And then, if re-engaging with a potentially more devastating force of nature than that so summarily subsumed in Thomond Park last weekend was not a difficult enough task, Munster must travel freighted with concerns about the rampant indiscipline that ensnared them last Saturday.

Penalised at twice the rate of their opponents, Munster were moved, not for the first time this season, to seek urgent clarification via official channels in order to clear up refereeing interpretations.

They have received encouragement before, notably in regard to Dave Kilcoyne's scrummaging. Whether they will achieve similar succour this week depends largely on themselves, but also the good faith of a similar panel of officials.

"We've had some really good correspondence and we've had some really good feedback about this week," declares Rob Penney on foot of 21 penalty/ free-kick concessions.

"So for me it's about approaching this game in a really positive manner with the officials.

"We need to make sure they're aware of the areas of the game that we might have some concerns with and that they are able to converse with us about areas of the game where they have concerns with us.

"So then we can go into the game really clear and there will be no ability to get hijacked by interpretations or rulings. But we've got to be really careful that we get our back yard right before we start looking over the fence.


"We go through the referee liaison people who deal directly with the officials," explains. I am not sure of the protocol, but, later in the week, if there is an opportunity to speak with the referee, if he is comfortable with that, it's something we'd like to do."

After Pascal Gauzere's occasionally infuriating performance last weekend, Penney is eager to assuage any idea that his side are perceived as wanton recidivists.

Munster have not always been flavour of the month with French officials and, with Jerome Garces in the middle this Sunday, the Kiwi coach is determined not to arouse any Gallic gall.

"I am told that type of thing doesn't happen, which is good news," adds Penney. "The only thing that would concern me is if they weren't open-minded enough to accept the discussion about the things that we were concerned with last week.

"Because that could set up a little poisoned spiral among that group of officials, which would be dangerous. So hopefully through the right channels, we'll be able to get a good message across, and they'll be open-minded enough to accept the message.

"I'm sure they will be. They are professional men in a professional environment and they want to do the right thing by the game."

While they may not be able to control their appallingly unlucky injury profile or, perhaps, even much of their propensity for indiscipline, Penney can at least be cheered by his squad's resurgence in Europe since losing so shoddily in their opening game of the Pool against Racing Metro in October.

Penney shudders still at the memory of falling into what he often describes as "the pit", from which Munster have rehabilitated sufficiently strongly to wrest back control of their own fate.

That they have done so with concurrent doubts about their style, personnel and wracked by injury perils to so many talismanic figures bows to both their courage and character, according to the enthused coach.

Hence, it is easier for him to believe that his side can shun the memory of Paris and win in the tricky surrounds of Vicarage Road.

"It seems a lifetime ago in some ways, Paris," reflects Penney.

"I didn't really have an expectation. I expect them to play their hearts out and do the best they can, then on the back of that hope it's good enough to get some results. And that has been the way of it.

"In terms of winning away, there are two things I would cling on to. One is my first game in Edinburgh, which a lot of people said we would not win.

"And then Cardiff, which has been notorious as a bit of a burial ground for Munster teams, and the lads ended up winning on the bell.

"So the team has the ability to win away. Obviously, that was in the Pro12, but I think there is enough experience and enough belief amongst the international guys.

"I try to drive the philosophy that it is the same size field and same grass. Supporters and the environment might be slightly different but when you go out on the field you should treat it exactly the same, no matter where you play.

"So by clinging to those sort of things I really think that it is not insurmountable. It is a massive hurdle, but it is not insurmountable."

Munster are clinging on to much more than mere hope.

Irish Independent

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