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'What players need is an opportunity': Howlett confident youthful Munster squad can step up

The southern province have replaced big names with unproven, but hungry, talent this summer.

Howlett in the thick of Munster training in January.
Howlett in the thick of Munster training in January.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ALTHOUGH HE ADMITS gravely that European rugby’s ‘landscape is changing’ – almost inexorably tilting further and further in the favour of a handful of clubs in England and France – Doug Howlett is confident that Munster’s largely unheralded squad can continue to challenge on the big stage.

On top of JJ Hanrahan (Northampton) and Paul O’Connell (Toulon), France will welcome four players from the southern province this season.

As Munster’s corporate ambassador, it’s part of Howlett’s job to attempt to bridge the growing gap in revenue between the ‘haves’ and the ‘used-to-haves’.

However, in the short-term at least, New Zealand’s record try-scorer is not panicking about what lies ahead of Munster this season. Players come, players go and Munster were denied the Pro12 title by one of the finest teams in the competition’s history.

Doug Howlett Howlett looked happy with his swing at Grand Canal Dock today. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“There’s nothing more certain in sport: guys move on and guys come through,” Howlett told The42 at the launch of AIG’s Summer Splash today.

“The rugby landscape is changing. There’s a lot of temptation for players, so it’s challenging. There’s a couple of players there that will leave holes, but [sometimes] what players need is an opportunity.

Promise

“We’re working on the group coming through and hopefully they can get to similar levels as the guys before them who are leaving.”

To provide a counter-weight to the attraction of going abroad, Munster have shown a willingness to promote their most promising talent early. Most notable is Peter O’Mahony, made captain at the age of 23 after Howlett retired, but also Jack O’Donoghue who captained Munster A before his 21st birthday this season.

“The future there is encouraging: Jack O’Donoghue, Rory Scannell, these types of players  starting to break in.

“That’s what’s unique about Munster. These players have grown and played all their rugby in the Munster region. It’s great to have them. Whatever about bringing in international players, these are the players the team is built on and we need to keep hold of them.”

To build on that homegrown talent, Munster have recruited from across provincial borders. Clontarf’s UBL player of the year Matt D’Arcy and Leinster’s promising and powerful Jordan Coghlan join the much more experienced Francis Saili and Tomas O’Leary through Thomond Park’s doors. Men who fit Howlett’s description of players crying out for a big opportunity.

“You work with what you’ve got and signs are encouraging from pre-season. Some people just need an opportunity to prove their worth and show their wares. We’re hoping during the World Cup that some of these young guys get an opportunity and grab it.”

Doug Howlett tested his skills in the AIG Insurance Summer Splash event today. AIG Insurance announced up to 15% discounts on their car, home and travel insurance products, to members of sporting clubs across their sponsorship partners. Click here for more information.

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Sean Farrell

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