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Home comforts the reason for Penney's exit

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

In some ways, we left Limerick none the wiser as to why Rob Penney will no longer be coach of Munster next season, but a little reading between the lines goes a long way.

After Thursday's shock statement that the New Zealander would leave the province at the end of the season to take up a new opportunity, for "family reasons", the province invited the media to their snowy UL base yesterday for a de-brief to clear up some of the reasons behind the decision.

However, with the man himself issuing a diktat that he didn't want to talk about anything remotely to do with contracts, and even refusing to answer the question of whether his forwards coach Anthony Foley is ready for a head coaching job, it was left to chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald to explain the rest.

What we know is that Penney will leave at the end of the season and reports in New Zealand indicate that he will become head coach at Japanese club NTT Shining Arcs next season, on a three-year deal which brings him closer to home.

According to Fitzgerald, Penney and Munster had agreed in principle to take up the option of a one-year extension on the same terms, but the Kiwi was keeping his options open and, when the long-term security of the move to the big money league in Japan came up, he took the chance.

He went back to Fitzgerald with news of his offer and the province did not consider matching it or increasing the deal on the table by another year.

"I think Rob had his decision made at that stage," the chief executive said.

When pushed on whether a two-year deal might have been enough to keep him here, Fitzgerald replied: "Would he have liked a two-year (contract) and would he have stayed? He possibly would."

However, with Penney refusing to discuss it, we may never know exactly what would or wouldn't have persuaded him to stay.

Much has been made of the part assistant coach Simon Mannix's role in the future set-up played in the whole discussions, but Fitzgerald insisted yesterday that the former All Black and the rest of the backroom team were not due to be offered new deals until after Penney and manager Niall O'Donovan had agreed to their one-year extensions.

Former Ireland forwards coach O'Donovan has committed to another year, although that may now be reviewed with a view to a further season with the arrival of a new coach now imminent, but Mannix will leave at the end of the season, while Foley and Ian Costello's deals are up at the end of the campaign.

The search for a replacement has begun and Fitzgerald wants it tied up within four weeks, but he admits it was not something he was expecting to do for another 12 months.

And, he has no regrets about how he and Munster handled he process.

"It was part of our long-term plan that we would have Rob for a three-year cycle," he said.

"We felt we needed to get that cycle in the change with players and the young players coming through the squad. I'm happy we did everything right and professionally. I don't have any regrets."

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