The Crusaders made a very smart choice this week by appointing Rob Penney as head coach for next Super rugby season replacing Scott Robertson who takes over the All Blacks job from Ian Foster after the World Cup.

Crusaders 2024 head coach Rob Penney

The former Canterbury rugby centurion has certainly served his time building up an impressive rugby cv in New Zealand with Canterbury winning four successive NPC titles, New Zealand under 20s, Munster in Ireland, the Waratahs and Japan where his latest role is head coach of NTT Communications Shining Arcs club.

However before he finished playing rugby in the mid-1990s his professional rugby journey actually began in Marlborough (New Zealand). He arrived in Blenheim with the Red Devils struggling along in third division, taking on the role of CEO and by the time he hung up his boots two seasons later in 1997, Marlborough had won the third division NPC crown and the following year made the second division semifinals.

I was fortunate to get to know Rob very well as a sports reporter at the Marlborough Express. We met up and least a couple of times a week as he kept me updated with the happenings on the local rugby scene. We also appeared together on Radio Marlborough’s sports show segment each Saturday morning.

I always reckoned after he had been in the job a while that he was like a rugby supermarket. Anything you needed or wanted to know regarding Marlborough rugby Rob was the man to see.

Not only was he CEO but also Marlborough Red Devils onfield captain where, despite battling injuries, led from the front with inspiring performances and had a fair bit to do with team tactics alongside then coaches Tony Goddard and Jim Love. 

He organised the aftermatch, oversaw the match day organisation, advertising, sponsors and played club rugby for Awatere, so undoubtedly his time in Marlborough set him up well for what has been to date a mostly very successful coaching career.


His success certainly hasn’t surprised me because his attention to detail and his passion for rugby back then was always on point, he had a strong personality and led by example and while he was in the province it was certainly an exciting time to follow or play rugby.

Incidentally current Blues head coach Leon MacDonald played in that Marlborough team captained by Penney as did Chiefs assistant coach David Hill.

Having played over 100 games for Canterbury from 1985-94 and having been assistant coach of the Crusaders previously, he is well steeped in Red and Black Crusaders tradition following in the footsteps of previous head coaches who all played for Canterbury and or the Crusaders, namely Vance Stewart, Wayne Smith, Robbie Deans, Todd Blackadder and Scott Robertson.

In another smart move the Crusaders board has retained the current assistant coaches all of whom are obviously doing a fine job, Tamati Ellison, Dan Perrin and James Marshall.

Following Scott Robinson’s unparalleled success will be a very hard act to follow but Rob Penney is his own man and will do it his way, but without reinventing the wheel and he’ll stick pretty close to the formula which has served one of the greatest rugby clubs in the world so well.

DAVID HAVILLI - looking to prove his fitness and form with Tasman Makos

As for the current Crusaders side, that they have finished second in the round-robin is testament to the coaching class of Scott Robertson because look at who is out injured for the season. Three All Blacks props, George Bower, Joe Moody, Fletcher Newell plus loose-forward Cullen Grace and test backs David Havilli and Sevu Reece. Add in Ethan Blackadder who is due back for the play-offs but missed almost the entire round-robin and Willi Heinz also injured at present and you think how on earth are they still close to the top of the table.

It will take a monumental effort and a big upset for anyone to deny the all-conquering Chiefs the title this year.

SUPER COACH - Clayton McMillan

Superbly coached by Clayton McMillan, they have built this squad over the last three seasons to the point where they have so much depth that their second string side with 11 changes from the previous game, were still way too good for the Western Force in Perth 43-19.

Not surprisingly they have also made a significant move on the coaching front by retaining head coach McMillan and assistants David Hill and Roger Randle for next year and beyond.

Interview & Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.


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