23 Apr 14
With just days to go to Munster's Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulon in Marseilles, the Munster squad yesterday trained in Musgrave Park, Cork.
Then, asked to judge that performance given it was a side third from bottom he continued, "We can only play what's put against us. By no means were we perfect. We again probably left some points out on the track. They breached us a couple of times. I think it showed the character of the group - - and people always talk about the character of the Munster group - when we were breached and they had to rush back and help their mates on defence. That sort of work, that selfless work was being done often when those breaches occurred. They gave us some challenges on attack and we made some opportunities and didn't finish them. As I said we weren't perfect."
As is always the case, individual performances were raised and specifically that of Man of the Match Keith Earls. "It was terrific. I thought it took a lot of courage for him to make that first pass of the day, under a lot of pressure and had to throw up pretty blind really.
" And it's something we worked on during the week given the defensive structures that the Dragons present. That really set the tone for the evening. It was on the back of a really good set-piece. That pass from centre to Zebs was a terrific pass and it got us under way.
"I think the beauty about Keith is his durability and his versatility." Penney continued. " He's a tough robust bloke. He's very athletic and he's very skilful. I think he's a marvellous 13, he can also play inside centre I think and he's obviously proven on the wing.
"And he could probably play full back too if we wanted him too. He'll get the opportunity right at the start to play 13 and he'll get opportunities elsewhere and it just depends on what's in the best interests of the team."
And when Ian Keatley's performance was described as 'solid' his response was. "Yeh, well to be fair, I thought he was better than solid. One or two little errors. He's a tremendous attacking threat. His handling, I think, it was in relation to the second try was superb. Really helped set that up by giving a great pass and then staying in support. Really happy with Ian the way he went at full back. Gives us another option to broaden our base in a number of positions which is as I said before is critical."
It all makes for a selection heading among the backs ?" We've a number of positions that are challenging for us." He said. " We lost a guy like James Coughlan last week and then Paddy Butler, a young man, comes in and was terrific tonight. Niall Ronan's first game back after Sean Dougall's done a fantastic job for us at seven and Niall has a steamer.
"So there's a number of positions. I won't even try to talk about the front row selectorially because there's so many good people there. So yep loads of options to consider."
"Everyone's putting pressure on for a starting spot and we still got some firepower to come back. It's really about the depth of probably your players 30 to 35/36 that can get you through to silverware contention. Because nobody can play 35 games in a programme - maybe 40 for some guys if they played a lot of internationals, if they played everything - and expect to be firing on all cylinders at the end. So the depth of the squad is critical."
Asked about Munster's style of play he replied. "They have to play in a way that reflects their personalities and their love for the game. What drew them to the game in the first place was running with the ball and the physical contact. That what so special about rugby they very much got a licence to express themselves and the whole management group are chuffed the way they're exhibiting their skills.
"Because it's great to watch for us. Heart in the mouth stuff at times," he admits with a grin. "But it's quite awe inspiring. Its wonderful"
When asked about the fact that Munster ended the game on Saturday with 11 players in their early 20s, his response was. " It's a good sign. But I think we just got to keep a lid on things a little bit. It's very early days and these guys are doing a terrific job. We just have to keep our feet on the ground and make sure that we work hard on the early part of next week to try keep the growth in the group going."
And with trips to Swansea, Dublin and Paris looming ? "Yep it's going to be a challenging three weeks. A massive three weeks for us.Our ability to play away from home I think is without question given that we were able to compete and did well in Edinburgh and competed well without a result in Belfast.
"I think the group have got their head around the fact that it's the same size pitch no matter where you go. It'll be a good challenge for us. I don't know what the outcomes of those challenges will be. We'll just play one game at a time and keep trying to build on what we're started to create."
He agreed with the suggestion that the time is ripe to see a settled side. " Yes, it is time to get a settled group together heading into ERC. But we'll have to see who backs up with knocks and who is back in contention again next week."
" "There'll be some interesting discussion . There'll be some disappointed people and there'll be some who are rapt. But as I said before, we just have to keep everyone inspired and motivated to do well. At the end of the day we're all working for the one end and that's to make this team as successful as we can."