MUNSTER coach Rob Penney believes his Leinster counterpart Joe Schmidt may have been engaging in a degree of ‘gamesmanship’ when commenting on the decision not to cite Paul O’Connell in the wake of the province’s recent RaboDirect PRO12 clash.
Schmidt said last week that in 12 years of professional rugby coaching, he didn’t think he ever saw a contact like the incide where O’Connell accidentally kicked Dave Kearney’s head in trying to fly hack the ball away.
Schmidt added: “It’s impossible for us to rule on intent. What we can see is an action that has had 90,000 hits on YouTube. That mothers of kids that we want to play the game are watching.”
But Munster coach Penney responded strongly to the comments at the province’s media day at Musgrave Park this Tuesday.
Penney said: “I haven’t read everything he (Joe Schmidt) said. I think there as a mention about people outside of rugby watching that. I’m not sure was it attributed to Joe.
“Look, Paulie (O’Connell) has probably done more for the game in Ireland than anybody. For the young kids that are now loving the game it’s on the back a lot of what’s he done.
“So I was sort of a wee bit taken aback by just that one reference to, you know, did it put people off the game.
“A guy of Paulie’s ilk and what he does around the community and for people in the wider community, people in hospital and young people with illnesses and so forth. It’s just unheralded really.
“Otherwise I can understand completely what Joe is saying about wanting to protect his player and make sure that his player is dealt with in the right way.”
“And, you now, hopefully they feel under a bit of heat now because Munster is on the rise and he’s trying to put some ammunition back this way to put pressure on alternative areas outside of the game itself.
“There might be a bit of gamesmanship too interwined with some real concern and thoughtfulness around his player and his need to support him which I can understand.”
New Zealander Penney said he hoped O’Connell would be able to bounce back this weekend from the controversy surrounding the Kearney incident.
Penney said: “You never know what’s happening in the deep recesses of an individual’s mind but you would hope that someone of Paulie’s experience would be able to bounce back.
“Rightfully so, he’s a special guy as we all know. There was an incident obviously without intent. Accidents and non-malicous incidents occur in the game every week.
“Everyone is feeling for the Kearney family and David in particular. Hopefully he recovers well and gets back on the footie field as quickly as anything because that’s the important bit, it’s about him.
“I’m sure Paul would tell you that the outcome of that little incident wasn’t what anyone wanted and he’s certainly the first one to regret that.
“From my own perspective if there was a semblance of maliciousness or intent in the act then I and us as an organisation would have dealt with it much more harshly than anybody else could have probably.
“That sort of thing wouldn’t have been tolerated if the intent was malicious. Hopefully he can, you know, and I’m sure he can show a bit of mental resilience and not let it fog his ability to perform.
Penney is very familiar with Clermont coach Vern Cotter as the pair worked together as part of the coaching ticket which helped the Crusaders win the Super 15 title in 2005.
Penney said: “He (vern Cotter) was fundamentally the forwards coach and I did the line-outs and some other bits and pieces.
“He’s a good bloke and a quality coach. He’s certainly done well in the French environment which is not an easy one.”
While Munster will have a large band of travelling support in Montpellier this weekend, Clermont’s support will outnumber the Red Army.
Penney believes the ability to create pressure on the pitch will be key in nullifying the French side’s numerical advantage in the stands.
That’s the best way to nullify the support – to create pressure,” he said.
“One thing you’d say is that the Clermont team have coped well with that sort of pressure when it has been exerted.
“They’ve had all that amount of games at home which they’ve obviously won and they’ve had some good performances on the road as well. They played Toulon with their second team down there a couple of weeks ago and drew. That was a really good performance.
But pressure does funny things. You never know what the outcome can be of building consistent pressure over time does to individuals and groups.”