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'He’s always been a great athlete': Howlett backs Sweetnam to make a mark at Test level

The All Black great believes the former Cork hurler is getting better with every rugby game.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

MUNSTER AND ALL Black legend Doug Howlett says we’re just beginning to see the best of ‘exceptional talent’ Darren Sweetnam.

The former Cork hurler has excelled in his province’s opening Pro12 fixtures this season and earned a call into Ireland’s mini-camp in Carton House on Monday.

The 23-year-old has clearly impressed Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, and with a four-Test November schedule ahead, the Dunmanway star well could be required to perform a role in Ireland’s back three at some point.

“I think he’s an exceptional talent,” Howlett said at the announcement that Eir Sport would broadcast Ireland’s opening November Test against New Zealand in Chicago on 5 November.

“We’ve always known that in the three-four years he’s been with us now. We’re just starting to see the fruits of it.

“He’s always been a great athlete, spacial awareness, all these things. There are some subtleties in rugby that he’s learning and he’s learning them quickly. It’s allowing him to express himself. We saw it in the weekend just gone where he was allowed to (express himself).

“And he’s picked up some good lessons along the way. I could point to Dragons when he got over the line – and I’ve no issue with it, because he was trying to help the kicker improve the angle – but he dropped the ball over the line.

“He’ll never do it again.

“The type of guy he is, he’s a sponge for information. It’s a competitive position out there nationally, and he can certainly put his name in the mix.”

The Kiwi added:  “I like his attitude, I like the risk that he took coming from hurling, where he was comfortable in, and it just says a lot about him that he says: ‘listen, I want a new challenge, I can do this.’

Doug Howlett Doug Howlett at the announcement that Eir would broadcast Ireland's November Test against the All Blacks in Chicago. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“He’s backed himself. Now he’s just got to follow through but I like that.”

Sweetnam’s solid form has been emblematic of his province this season. And, with a trip to take on Leinster in the Aviva Stadium looming this weekend, Howlett has been thrilled to see the Erasmus effect take hold.

“The biggest shift I’ve seen is Rassie,” Howlett states like a man utterly confident in his facts.

“Like a new job, or when a new boss comes in: when a new coach comes in everybody’s on guard because everyone is trying to prove a point. Experienced guys, internationals, academy players, guys pushing for position – they’re all putting the best foot forward all the time, at every training.

“You’ve reported that there has been an edge to training in the first few weeks. That’s healthy and that’s what Rassie has brought with his coaching staff.

He puts  a lot of emphasis on attitude, intent, all these great rugby words. That allows him to create the environment there is at the moment. It’s simple enough, but with a lot of room to grow the gameplan. I’d look for a few twists as the season goes on.”

With Jonathan Sexton back in harness and Robbie Henshaw making his first bursts in blue, Munster may need to produce an early-season twist or two to claim victory in Dublin.

Former Munster and All Blacks player Doug Howlett was in Dublin to announce that eir Sport customers will be able to view Ireland v New Zealand on Saturday, 5th November in Chicago and Maori All Blacks v Munster on Friday, 11th November exclusively live on the eir Sport Pack. Visit eirsport.ie for more information.

‘You try and have the same intensity every week, but there’s something special about these games’

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Sean Farrell

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