In a development sure to raise eyebrows, Penney has won the plum role as successor to the All Blacks-bound Scott Robertson despite two underwhelming stints at the Waratahs and Shining Arcs in Japan.
The 59-year-old Cantabrian was unveiled as coach of the 11-times Super kings and reigning titleholders on Tuesday.
His appointment completes one of the great coaching comebacks.
Penney was shown the door at Moore Park five games into the Waratahs’ historic winless campaign in 2021, having coached the side to just one victory from six matches in 2020 before that season was abandoned because of COVID-19.
Penney departed Sydney with a dismal seven-from-29 record, a 24 per cent winning strike rate that he struggled to better in Japan even with former Wallabies superstar Israel Folau and other big names on his books.
The Shining Arcs were relegated from the Japanese Top League during his tenure, prompting Penney’s parting of the ways this year to coach Japan’s under-20s side.
“I’m excited and honoured to have been selected to lead the coaching group at the Crusaders from 2024 onwards,” Penney said in a statement.
“The Crusaders franchise has a strong history and record of success and excellence, both in on-field performance and off-field culture, and I’m excited to immerse myself into the environment.”
“Rob impressed us with his leadership qualities, his experience, and his proven ability to innovate on and off the field,” Crusaders board chairman Grant Jarrold said.
“Our existing coaching group is experienced and has an intricate understanding of the Crusaders way. As a board, we are excited about Rob’s ability to add to this group and guide both our coaches and our playing group to success.”
Penney, who will join the Crusaders from 1 August, has long aspired to get the Crusaders gig. It’s understood his tight relationship with Robertson was a decisive factor in Super Rugby’s most successful franchise taking a leap of faith in him.