Warwick ruled out of clash with Warriors

PAUL WARWICK has been ruled out of tonight’s opening Magners League clash against Glasgow Warriors at Firhill but Munster, captained by Mick O’Driscoll yet again, welcome back high-flyers Doug Howlett and Lifeimi Mafi for the big game.

And while the safe bet would be on Howlett and Mafi to make the biggest impact for the reigning champions, All Black icon Howlett thinks rookies like Felix Jones, Tom Gleeson and Billy Holland could be the players to watch.

Howlett, downplaying his return to competitive rugby, is keenly looking forward to the game but says he is equally positive about the possible impact from the new Munster brood.

Although he accepted the possible difficulties associated with having to play through the opening month of the competitive season without several front-line players, Howlett yesterday insisted Munster can enjoy another fruitful season.

“Most of the guys (tonight) were involved on a regular basis right last season. This year, they have taken a step-up and on the evidence so far, a lot of them are no longer happy just to play a supporting role. That’s the way it should be,” he said.

Last season, Munster hit the ground running in the Magners League and many would point to that magnificent start as being primarily responsible for ultimate victory in the competition.

Howlett agreed with the assessment to a point, but countered by highlighting the fact that Munster produced some magnificent results during the Six Nations when the squad was without up to 10 top-ranked players at a time.

The fact Munster’s international players will be eased gradually back into action has, insisted the Kiwi, been taken into account.

“We have known for a long time that this would be the case and prepared accordingly. We went through that Six Nations period with a similar availability of players and got a few great results to strengthen our challenge. We took a lot of confidence out of that; the team that will generally play this first month has had plenty of time together and, some of the younger guys are right on top of their form.”

Howlett is very happy with his collection of both Heineken Cup and Magners League medals since joining 18 months ago, and is intent on embellishing that run but accepts it is a hard road ahead.

“It is increasingly competitive and you’ve got to stay one step ahead of the competition. It has been very productive for me these last two seasons even if it was a massive disappointment not to make another Heineken Cup final last year. The Magners League win was consolation; I don’t underestimate the value of it and to date I couldn’t have asked for more of my time in Ireland,” he said.

Munster will certainly be up against it tonight, not least because Glasgow include three quality international players to the team for the first time.

The all-Scottish trio of scrum-half Chris Cusiter, centre Peter Murchie and wing Rob Dewey have impressed head coach Sean Lineen enough to earn automatic inclusion.

Lineen said: “It’s the first Magners League start for Chris, Peter and Rob, all of whom have made a huge impact since coming here a short time ago.

“We have three quality scrum-halves and Chris has made a huge impact since he arrived here over the summer. Although we achieved a great result against Wasps last weekend, I’m adamant pre-season achievements will count for nothing unless we deliver results on the pitch.”

GLASGOW: B Stortoni; R Dewey, P Murchie, G Morrison, T Evans; D Parks, C Cusiter; J Welsh, D Hall, M Low; T Barker, A Kellock (captain); K Brown, J Beattie, J Barclay.

Replacements: P MacArthur, K Tkachuk, D Turner, R Vernon, M McMillan, R Jackson, C Shaw.

MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett, T Gleeson, L Mafi, D Hurley; J Manning, P Stringer; M Horan, D Fogarty, T Buckley; M O’Driscoll (capt), D Ryan; B Holland, D Leamy, N Ronan.

Replacements: D Varley, J Broughnaut, T O’Donnell, J Coughlan, T Morland, S Deasy, B Murphy

Referee: J Jones (Wales).

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