Other side to Penney: Waratahs coach has form for getting players back on their feet
If you think Rob Penney doesn’t have what it takes to pull this raw Waratahs team out of a hole, you don’t know the bloke.
He was my captain when I first played for Canterbury in New Zealand’s provincial competition years ago and that team was the genesis of the Crusaders’ future success.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Rob Penney since he joined the NSW Waratahs in late 2019. Credit:Louie Douvis
Playing against North Harbour, one of the top teams in New Zealand at the time, I got absolutely crunched in a tackle by former All Black Frank Bunce and Ron Williams. As I lay on the ground with two players on top of me, all three of us got smashed by a blurry red and black thunderbolt. I was hit so hard I rolled forward and the ball spat out on our side of the ruck. It was Penz.
I was motionless on the ground and wheezing, thinking I was lucky to be alive. Penz yanked me by the jersey, pulled me up and said: “C’mon young fella, let’s get to the next one.”
Metaphorically speaking, I expect him to do the same for a NSW team that fell well short against the Reds in a record defeat on Friday.
James O’Connor scored 16 points for the Reds on Friday evening. Credit:Getty
Penney has been in the hot seat for only one season and last year was an incredibly disrupted campaign. By contrast, Brad Thorn is now into his fourth year at the Reds and is a very similar coach in terms of his approach and desire for the players to improve. They were both bloody tough forwards who put their hands up for work before anyone and put their bodies on the line.
Thorn is building good foundations rather than chasing short-term glory. It wasn’t perfect on Friday, but their style was polished and pretty good.
Don’t forget Penney coached Canterbury to four consecutive National Provincial Championship (now Mitre 10 Cup) titles between 2008 and 2011. His New Zealand under-20s side made a junior world championship final in 2012. He also developed a handy assistant coach by the name of Scott Robertson, who went on to win three consecutive Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, plus last year’s Aotearoa competition.
“Razor” Robertson took over at the end of that Canterbury dominance and then went into the Crusaders set-up. Penney knows it takes time to build something good. Thorn didn’t do it overnight.
As for the No.10 battle, James O’Connor had far more quality ball than Will Harrison.
Harrison made big strides last year, but he’s probably not the same assertive player O’Connor is. Maybe there’s more to come. If injured halfback Jake Gordon isn’t alongside him next week against the Brumbies, I’d like to see Harrison dominate a bit more. That’s not to say he gets greedy and does everything himself, but I just think the Waratahs were occasionally more predictable than the Reds, whose spontaneity I really enjoyed.
It was a significant night for rugby, too, with Channel Nine and Stan Sport broadcasting the game for the first time.
I don’t know about the other commentators, but it felt a bit daunting. You feel the pressure and, because it’s a big moment, you take it seriously. I’m glad it went smoothly without major dramas.
It was great to see Allana Ferguson helping David Campese out with the touch screen. We’re a bit older and need a bit of assistance with the technology. But I’m also old enough to remember what made Penney the coach he is today on the other side of the ditch. One bad result doesn’t change that.
Andrew Mehrtens is a New Zealand rugby legend, scoring 967 points for the All Blacks in 70 Tests. He is part of Nine and Stan Sport’s commentary team.
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