Rugby: Mike Penn driven by success of his relatives in football
New signing Mike Penn has joined up with Edinburgh Rugby determined to bring further honour to a sporting family with plenty of experience of gracing the big stage.
The 22-year-old utility back turned out for previous club Worcester Warriors at Currie in a British and Irish Cup tie 18 months ago but it is Murrayfield he is desperate to play on as a means of keeping upsides with his footballing dad and brother.
Penn said: “My brother (Russell) was a member of the Cheltenham Town football team which reached the English Division Two play-offs last season, losing out in the final at Wembley to Crewe Alexandra.
“As for my dad he was twice a Wembley finalist in the FA Vase competition when turning out for Halesowen Town.
“So there is a bit to live up to but having always preferred rugby I’m sure Murrayfield would be the perfect arena if I can persuade the coaches to give me an opportunity to show what I can do.”
In many respects, Penn could be regarded as one who got away where football is concerned, but he has no regrets about his career path.
“I came to rugby relatively late at the age of 14 but from the start the game interested me more than football. There’s the social side but also the pace of the game appeals more.
“And there are different aspects compared to football which, for me, is about putting feet to ball.”
Penn’s sibling actually made 49 appearances for Cheltenham last term and his CV shows him to be Burton Albion’s record signing at one stage in his career.
Penn, who has a one-year contract and who turns 23 just before the 2012-13 campaign gets under way, admits: “I’ve probably got to prove myself a bit but I can’t wait to get started at Edinburgh Rugby.”
A catalyst for Penn’s move is Edinburgh defence coach Billy McGinty, a former Great Britain rugby league internationalist who spent six years at Worcester.
Penn says: “I heard the SRU were interested in signing me and when Billy rang me things went from there.
“I said, ‘what’s it like at Edinburgh’ and he said it would suit my type of game to move. Edinburgh play a running game, everybody is keen and there is a bit of flair around.”
As well as a sporting pedigree, Penn brings with him some understanding of playing alongside another new signing, Greg Tonks, from the England under-18 set-up. “Greg and I played together for England at a tournament in Italy when I was part of the Worcester Academy set-up,” he said. “That was a big influence on me, as was coming through the ranks at Bromsgrove School.”
Bromsgrove is one of England’s top talent nurseries and recent products include full internationalists Ben Foden, Andy Goode and George Robson.
Penn adds: “I feel I have also benefited from a loan spell at Nottingham in the past year.
“At Worcester I played in the Premiership (against London Irish and Harlequins) and for the A side as well as turning out in the British and Irish Cup.
“However, Nottingham gave me the chance to play every week and I feel I have improved as a consequence.
“Originally I was a full-back but I have adapted to playing on the wing. I really like it out wide as there is extra space to operate in but, really, I will play any position on the pitch if required.
“What is particularly attractive is the prospect of sampling European rugby for the first time having had to be content with playing beyond the group stage of the LV Cup on one occasion.”
Interestingly, when Worcester won their B & I Cup tie 32-16 at Currie in a match regularly postponed because of snow at the beginning of 2011, Penn scored a try while playing in the centre. If he got through the defences on that occasion there was an incident earlier in the match which was reported by the Evening News as follows: “It took a thumping tackle by Currie winger Dougie Fife on Mike Penn to keep the score unchanged.”
Since then Dougie Fife has gone on to make his mark at Edinburgh with four appearance, starting with a try against Ospreys which helped to earn him man-of-the-match honours on his debut this year.
From now on, the pair are colleagues but doubtless rivals, too, which is what coach Michael Bradley had very much in mind when adding extra depth to his squad, especially with so many players liable to be away during the three match Autumn Test series.
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