Under-pressure Waratahs coach Rob Penney insists he’s still loving the job despite a 2-8 record this season and defended the progression of his younger players by bemoaning the fact they cannot go back to club rugby and get more experience under their belts.
The Waratahs had a chance to knock off the Queensland Reds and Brumbies in the opening half of Super Rugby AU but now go into the back-end of the season with one win to their name and clinging onto finals hopes.
Waratahs coach Rob Penney has had a tough start at NSW. Credit:Brook Mitchell
They have a chance to exact revenge after a 32-26 loss to the Reds in round one and Penney, who took over the head coaching role at NSW last year just days before fellow Kiwi Andrew Hore quit as the organisation’s chief executive, has predicted a fierce encounter.
“We're traditional foes ... [it] has been always a massive Titanic battle between two great states,” Penney said. “The battle last time was a really good one and if we can get that close again, hopefully we can get over the line.”
Penney, the former New Zealand under-20 and Munster boss, has been given plenty of rope with a youthful group given he inherited most of the roster and didn’t have a say in a number of high profile players exiting the club.
He has always aimed high but cautioned that time needed to be given to a raw cohort of players who, in time, could become something special.
Yet, in a results-driven game, two wins from 10 starts – across traditional Super Rugby and then the newly formed competition – won’t wash with Waratahs fans who six years ago saw their side win a Super Rugby title. How long ago that feels now.
Asked if he was still enjoying the role, despite limited success, Penney replied: “Shit yeah”.
“We’re trying to win every week. We’ve been trying to win every week from week one. Nothing changes. You’re going to have fluctuations and performances drop.”
Penney then all but conceded some of his players may not be cut out for Super Rugby at the moment. In an ideal world, they’d be playing Shute Shield to build up their resolve before donning a blue jersey.
“They are trying to learn a lot really quickly. Super Rugby is not a great place to learn your trade,” Penney said. “A lot of these boys haven’t even played a lot of senior rugby yet and it’s such a shame we can’t send young boys back to the Shute Shield to get more game time.
“It’s a big ask for these young men. I’m a wee bit defensive about them as young blokes.
“There’s reasons why we’re probably not as consistent. We proved against the Brumbies and against the Reds in round one that we can be competitive.
“There’s a lot of things happening that are really positive. Unfortunately they don’t always manifest themselves in the 80 minutes on Friday and Saturday night.”
The easy solution would be to buy some top-tier stalwarts to create a better blend of youth and experience.
But in these times, given the dire financial predicament of the game, that’s easier said than done.
“We’re endeavouring [to sign a big name],” Penney said. “The ability to fill those holes isn’t as straightforward as you’d like.”
NSW Waratahs vs Queensland Reds at SCG, 7.15pm Saturday
Waratahs (1-15): Tom Robertson, Tom Horton, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper, Jack Dempsey, Jake Gordon, Will Harrison, Alex Newsome, Karmichael Hunt, Lalakai Foketi, James Ramm, Jack Maddocks.
Bench: Andrew Tuala, Angus Bell, Tetera Faulkner, Tom Staniforth/Jed Holloway (pending Simmons fitness test), Hugh Sinclair, Mitch Short, Joey Walton, Ben Donaldson.
Reds (1-15): Dane Zander, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou, Angus Blyth, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Angus Scott-Young, Liam Wright, Harry Wilson, Scott Malolua, James O’Connor, Filipo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Jock Campbell.
Bench: Alex Mafi, Jack Straker, Zane Nonggorr, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Fraser McReight, Tate McDermott, Bryce Hegarty, Josh Flook.
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