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New Crusaders head coach opens up on chasing a dynasty

Author
Nick Bewley,
Publish Date
Wed, 23 Aug 2023, 12:36pm
Rob Penney. Photo / Supplied
Rob Penney. Photo / Supplied

New Crusaders head coach opens up on chasing a dynasty

Author
Nick Bewley,
Publish Date
Wed, 23 Aug 2023, 12:36pm

Rob Penney knows the questions and comparisons are coming.

The new Crusaders coach is three weeks into a role that while many would aspire to fill, few may willingly accept in the current circumstances.

It’s not quite Chris Hipkins for Jacinda Ardern, or to use a sports comparison David Moyes for Sir Alex Ferguson, but the challenge ahead of Penney is undeniable.

How does someone replace the winningest coach in Super Rugby history? A coach bursting with a charisma seldom seen in rugby, held in the highest regard by his players and adored by a legion of fans.

The short answer is Scott Robertson is irreplaceable, something not lost on his successor.

”I’m not Razor. And I can safely say now there will be no breakdancing,” Penney says with a grin at an introductory press meeting with local media in Christchurch.

“He is a unique man. He’s done a fantastic job, left [the Crusaders] in great shape. My role is to try to, results-wise, emulate what’s gone before me and make sure the legacy is remained and built on but not to be Razor.

”I’m not a big surfer, I’ve got darker hair than he has. He was a much better athlete than me. There’s lots of reasons for me not to try and pursue the way he did things.”

Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson celebrates with the Super Rugby Pacific trophy. Photo / Photosport

Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson celebrates with the Super Rugby Pacific trophy. Photo / Photosport

Some would say Penney, who has returned home after stints coaching in Japan, Ireland and Australia, faces a hiding-to-nothing scenario. Much like scraping the ice off your car windscreen in winter here in Canterbury, seeing the Crusaders hoist a trophy at season’s end is an expectation in these parts.

And perhaps this is why the champion franchise opted to sign a battle-hardened coach on a two-year deal rather than promote one of their highly thought of assistants early in their coaching careers.

Not only is there expectation, but Penney will have to do it without two of the best players to ever wear the Crusaders jersey.

Sam Whitelock - labelled an immortal by former Crusaders forwards guru, now All Blacks assistant Jason Ryan - will leave a sizeable hole in the engine room while young first fives Fergus Burke and Taha Kemara face the unenviable task of filling the void left by Richie Mo’unga.

Richie Mo'unga and Sam Whitelock will be tough to replace in the Crusaders unit. Photo / Photosport

Richie Mo'unga and Sam Whitelock will be tough to replace in the Crusaders unit. Photo / Photosport

There’ll be pressure, but Penney wouldn’t have it any other way.

”That’s an underlying requirement of the job. Without that expectation, the organisation wouldn’t be as good as it’s been. It’s a great honour that pressure, for me it’s a thrill. It’s a joy and something that I’ll embrace,” Penney said.

“Someone once told me you can look at pressure and it can be an uphill grind or a warm wind at your back and I’ll be certainly looking at it as a warm wind at my back.

While the days of “hoo-hah Razor ray” ringing out of the sheds at Orangetheory Stadium are consigned to history, don’t expect an overhaul.

Penney and Robertson’s careers are intertwined with Robertson getting one of his first breaks as an assistant under the former Munster and Waratahs coach at Canterbury.

Themes each season are set to continue, while a fostering culture will be upheld.

”I don’t think we’re philosophically too different around how we see the game and how we see people,” Penney said.

“We have a lot of love in our hearts, we teach and educate and try to develop a culture that is nurturing and caring. Razor enjoyed expressing himself and his players the same and I’d be very highly focused in that area as well.

”It’s all about watching, in our instance, young men achieve their goals and when they exhibit their talent to be able to be unencumbered and be the best they can be time and time again.”

Time is on Penney’s side with six months to go before his tenure begins in earnest with a trip to Hamilton to face the Chiefs in a repeat of this year’s final.

Penney’s time at the helm will somewhat be harshly judged, but he’ll definitely take it on with a warm wind at his back.

- Nick Bewley is a Newstalk ZB sports journalist, sports news reader, and commentator based in Christchurch.

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