After 18 months of poor results, head coach Rob Penney has been sacked by the Waratahs – but Penney has suggested that there are far bigger issues at play at the New South Wales club than the standard of coaching.
Following successful stints with Canterbury (four provincial premierships), Munster and NTT Communications Shining Arcs, Penney’s arrival at the Waratahs was expected to usher in a new era of success but the reality has been quite the opposite.
Since Penney’s entry at the start of 2020, the Waratahs have recorded just five wins from 19 matches – against the Lions, Reds, Rebels and Western Force (twice). That 26 per cent win-rate is a smidge better than Michael Foley’s four wins from 16 games back in 2012, but is otherwise the worst record for any Waratahs coach since the team’s inception in 1996.
Penney, who was halfway through a three-year contract, has had little time to stamp his mark on the team, however, and has now taken aim at some members of the Waratahs’ upper management for essentially hog-tying the coach during his 18-month stint.
“I think there are other people in governance positions that should be held to account,” Penney told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“The decisions made by people in positions of governance have caused a situation and they feel they need to be seen to make a change because there has been some horrific results. In their eyes, the head coach has to take the fall.”
One such decision includes culling AUD 1 million from the Waratahs’ budget last season due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – despite Australia’s other four clubs continuing to spend freely.
“Getting a million dollars taken out of the budget at the back-end of COVID is probably going to cost this organisation more [in the long run],” Penney said. “We were dealing with recruitment with a million dollars less than everybody else.
“For the people who made those decisions, who walked away and thought it was the right thing to do, they just need to reflect on their role within that decision-making. There was some talk of the Waratahs needing to remain solvent, but why didn’t other states seem to have any trouble remaining solvent and recruiting?”
The Waratahs have had to manage without experienced operators such as Michael Hooper (Japan), Kurtley Beale (France), Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan (all England) in 2021 while they also lost Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley and Adam Ashley-Cooper for Penney’s first year in charge.
That experience has been replaced with unquestionable talent – but there remain few long-term leaders in the side.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 29, 2021
Penney suggested he was made a scapegoat by the organisation for poor results when other senior decision-makers needed to be held accountable, including chairman Roger Davis.
“The chairman told me ‘money is no object here, Sydney is a big place, if you need some stuff and support, we’ll be able to get it’,” Penney said. “The other side of the coin was [I was told] there will be patience because of the age profile of the group.
“Well, 18 months later, we’ve seen that neither of those things have been forthcoming – patience or financial resources – to be able to put this group together properly.”
“I’m sorry Rob feels the way he does and understand the pain but many of the assertions are either inaccurate, not time sensitive or disingenuous,” Davis send in a text to the Sydney Morning Herald. Our focus now is on the future and building a successful high-performance team.”
Assistant coaches Chris Whitaker and Jason Gilmore have been appointed as interim replacements for Penney, who will return to New Zealand to reunite with his family.
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