Bevan Sisson: Penney’s future in hands of his players

HAVE YOUR SAY: Share your opinion on Sisson’s views. Send your responses in 200 words or less to...
HAVE YOUR SAY: Share your opinion on Sisson’s views. Send your responses in 200 words or less to
I am of an age where you were sent home with a report card that needed to be signed off by your parents. Regular comments on mine were: “Needs to try harder, easily distracted C-.”

What would Rob Penney’s report card mention after the 2024 Super Rugby season?

Penney played his club rugby for the mighty Burnside team before playing more than 100 games for Canterbury. 

He then turned out for Marlborough, before embarking on a coaching career which involved roles as Crusaders assistant coach in 2005, Canterbury head coach, NZ U20s, Munster in Ireland, the Shining Arcs in Japan, then the Waratahs, back to Japan and now at the Crusaders for 2024.

The last few months would no doubt have been his most challenging; arriving back to a province he has deep connections with, and also a public which doesn’t take losing easily.

With a well-documented injury list and high profile players gone to greener pastures, it didn’t exactly create the perfect start. But injuries and retirements are part of the game and other franchises were similarly hit.

One factor to consider is the coaching set-up. 

It is important a coaching group has a similar philosophy regarding selections, game plans, and culture. That’s why the likes of Joe Schmidt added Mike Cron to the Australian set up; Tony Brown stayed loyal to Jamie Joseph and Scott Robertson has surrounded himself with coaches he knows and trusts.

Once you have created a coaching and management group, you tend to take them with you as you progress. 

Penney stepped into a coaching group like an arranged marriage. Already locked in were Dan Perrin, James Marshall, Matt Todd and Tamati Ellison, who has been part of the Crusaders set-up since 2021.

Rob Penney. Photo: Getty Images
Rob Penney. Photo: Getty Images
Did that combination click? With the added pressure of losing, did it create some internal finger pointing which then added to the lack of cohesion?

Teams pick up when not all is right within the management group and small cliques can develop as players back their favourites.

When the Crusaders board meet to do their inevitable report and discuss the look of the next few years, the player reviews will be paramount to how long Penney calls Rugby Park home.

If the players’ leadership group highlight a concern with regard to selection strategies, game plan confusion, and a fractured culture, then his time is done.

If it shows the coaching group is in sync with each other, the atmosphere was great and it was just a on-off year with a number of outside factors, then he stays.

Does Penney deserve to see out his contract? I believe so.

Aside from Ellison, who is spoken highly of within the playing group and is respected enough that Robertson added him to the All Black management team, Penney should pick his own coaching set up and re-advertise the other assistant roles.

If he believes the group he has is the one for him, then great. They can move forward. If, deep down, he knows they didn’t click then he should be allowed to move them on.

At the end of the day it’s his name in the headlines so he deserves to control his own destiny.

My report card rating for Penney: C+. Has room for improvement.

  • Sisson is a former player, Lincoln, Lincoln University and representative coach and New Zealand age group selector