Sport Rugby

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Penney warns IRFU forcing switches could lead to 'friction' in provinces

Munster head coach Rob Penney during squad training
Munster head coach Rob Penney during squad training
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

AHEAD of tomorrow's unveiling of David Nucifora as the IRFU's new high performance director, Munster coach Rob Penney has warned against the idea of the union "forcing" players to move between provinces to suit the national need.

The former Australia hooker's appointment to the newly created role had been on hold until the future of European club rugby was resolved.

Commanding a salary believed to be in the region of €300,000 per annum, the position will see Nucifora become the manager of Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and the four provincial supremos.

It will also give him a chance to develop what union chief executive Philip Browne described last year as "integrated, high performance systems that will be implemented across the representative game in Ireland, leading to the delivery of consistent and sustained excellence in performances."

With the provinces apprehensive over how the centralised approach will work, the case of Robbie Henshaw is likely to feature highly in his first press conference tomorrow at the Aviva Stadium.

The Ireland youngster is believed to be happy at Connacht, but an IRFU-sanctioned move to another province has been mooted, with union president Pat Fitzgerald refusing to rule out the idea last week, saying the decision would be Schmidt's.

Yesterday, Penney admitted Munster remain interested in the 20-year-old, whom they tried to sign last season.

The nature of contracts signed between the union and players means it will not be a simple case of forcing players to swap jerseys at the whim of the IRFU and, as Leinster manager Guy Easterby said on Monday, there will be much to discuss when the former Auckland Blues coach Nucifora gets his feet under his desk.

"It doesn't happen in a proactive sense in New Zealand," Penney said when asked to compare the Irish system with that of his native country where player movement between franchises appears to be more frequent.

"It's more part of an individual seeing where the best opportunities are for them and then grasping hold of those.

"They did go through a stage about seven or eight years ago where they were more proactive, but it lasted about two years.

"When you are forcing people to move they might have families, commitments in the province they are currently living in; might have children or other commitments that they just cannot just up sticks and move. It caused a bit of friction.

"The relationships between the players and the clubs need to be such that any club that is looking to recruit a player, needs to be held in the highest light by those players if they are going to go there."

Although he is leaving at the end of the season, Penney admitted that Henshaw, who is under an IRFU contract at Connacht until 2016, will remain a target for Munster in a position where they have a impending vacancy given Casey Laulala's impending departure.

"He is obviously in an environment that he is happy to be in," he said. "He will make some calls based on what he thinks are in his best interests. If he does put his hand back in the ring and decides he needs to move to achieve that he needs to achieve, I'm sure Munster will be very keen to have him."

Irish Independent

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