Captain Doug to oversee Munster's new centre combination

Howlett starts for the second time in two weeks as James Downey and Casey Laulala get their chance to shine against Bristol.

Doug Howlett will be hoping for an injury-free campaign.
Doug Howlett will be hoping for an injury-free campaign.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

RUGBY RETURNS TO Munster for the first time since early May as Bristol come to Musgrave Park in Cork to take on Rob Penney’s men.

The former Canterbury coach got off to a losing start as Munster supremo last weekend as they ran into a promising La Rochelle side in France.

Doug Howlett, starting his second pre-season game in succession, will captain the team and Munster fans will get their first chance to see Casey Laulala and James Downey in the midfield axis.

Downey featured in the 31-7 defeat in France last week but the Bristol match will be the first outing for Laulala since his summer move from Cardiff.

Laulala, capped twice for the All Blacks, has been coached previously by Penney, at Canterbury, and he told the Munster Rugby website that there is a ‘positive vibe going through the team’.

This is the 30-year-old’s first full pre-season in three years but he declares that injuries have not been an issue for some time now and he wants to make the number 13 jersey his own.

“It comes down to personal pride,” he said. “13 is my number, I’ve played part-time on the wing and at 12 but outside centre is my primary position. I just want to do well for myself and hopefully in that way I can contribute to the team and solidify that position and move forward from there.”

Hoping for a bigger impact

James Downey played three times for Munster during an ultimately unsuccessful trial period with the province, when they were under Ireland coach Declan Kidney, back in 2006.

Following a six month stint at Calvisano in Italy, the Dubliner was signed up by Northampton and won four trophies over four years. He came close to Heineken Cup success in 2011 when the English side were turned over by Leinster, the team he started his professional rugby career at in 2003. Downey commented:

(The stint abroad) was a good time for me, I needed to get my love of the game back, I suppose I was a bit disillusioned at the time but things have a way of working out and I was saved by going to Northampton.  A bit of stability was what I needed at the time.

“I really enjoyed the club and had a great experience and I believe it developed me a lot as a player.”

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The powerful inside centre is hoping to establish himself as a regular presence in the Munster side this season. He told the Irish Examiner earlier in the year that he aims to ‘keep knocking on the door’ in the hopes of getting a call-up for the Irish side.

Elsewhere in the starting Munster XV, Damien Varley returns at hooker and Ian Keatley continues at fly-half.

Munster: D Hurley; D Howlett capt, C Laulala, J Downey, L O’Dea; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, D Varley, S Archer; B Holland, D Foley; T O’Donnell, S Dougall, P Butler.

Wian du Preez, Peter Stringer, BJ Botha and Johne Murphy are four of the established names on a 14-man Munster bench.

Munster play Bristol at Musgrave Park from 7pm on Friday, 17 August.

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Patrick McCarry

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