Back-rower Dougall was no big-name signing for the two-time Heineken Cup champions, his move on a one-year, suck it and see deal from English championship side Rotherham Titans representing a gamble for both parties.
Scottish-born, Ulster developed and an U19 Ireland international, injuries interrupted Dougall’s ascendancy into Irish provincial rugby but two impressive seasons in Yorkshire earned him an unusual pathway back into the fold and, now 23, he has taken his opportunity with both hands. Stepping into a Munster back row depleted by injury and retirements,
Dougall’s impressive early-season form earned him a Heineken Cup start at openside flanker and he repaid Penney with tries in his first two European starts last October, at Racing Metro and home to Edinburgh.
Pity, then, that the fast start was halted by a knee injury suffered at Cardiff Arms Park on November 2 but just eight games into his initial deal, Dougall was rewarded this week with a new two-year contract and the praise of his head coach.
“He’s been fantastic. For a guy to come out of where he’s come out of, to do so well, and at Heineken Cup level early on, he’s proved his worth,” Penney said.
“He’s been contracted on the back of those good early-season performances but also his assiduous work ethic. He’s a very conscientious young man who behind the scenes is working hard to get better at everything he does.
“Even when he was injured he was always looking to improve, by doing homework and research on different individuals, around the world.
“So it’s the combination of having that attitude and the physical abilities with a great work ethic and desire to improve which is what we’re after.”
Dougall continues his comeback from that knee ligament injury in Cork tonight when he starts at openside at Musgrave Park, ironically against Cardiff Blues.
“I did my knee against Cardiff ….. touch wood it’s not a curse,” Dougall joked, yet having successfully come through a 13-minute replacement’s appearance at Connacht a fortnight ago in his first action in seven weeks, all the signs are good for a successful reintroduction.
“I’m really happy to extend my contract here,” he said.
“Obviously the injury has been a bit of a pain but I’m back in the squad now, training and playing and everything’s positive.”
Dougall spoke of his gratitude to Penney and forwards coach Anthony Foley for their early faith in him, when he helped get the new coaching regime off to winning start in the opening RaboDirect Pro12 game of the season.
“It’s perfect the way it happened (against Edinburgh), that I got my chance early doors. I came over here with the intention of getting into the team as quickly as possible. I knew opportunities would be there and that the pre-season games would be very important and a good chance to show myself. Obviously Rob and Axel have backed me and given me good opportunities.
“Thinking back to where I was last season I have to pinch myself sometimes. It’s really, really great, and I’m enjoying it. And to get two more years has made it even better. Obviously my aim was to extend my time here but I didn’t think it would come this early. I must have been doing something right so far.
Dougall returns to a side still experiencing teething problems as it adjusts to a new gameplan introduced by Penney, he insisted the best is yet to come.
“Considering it’s a new coach and a new system of play, it’s all really exciting. There’s a lot of young fellas in the team and it’s good for me to think I’ve got another two years surrounded by these players and this coaching staff.
“There’s a real good buzz about the place, we’re really enjoying playing rugby with Rob. We’re learning and growing every week and it’s a real positive at the moment.
“It’s early stages and it’ll take a while, it might take a season for things to go perfectly in a game but you’re going to make mistakes early doors and we’re fully aware we’re in the early stages. We’re already doing pretty well as it is so imagine what it’ll be like in a couple of seasons’ time.”
MUNSTER: F Jones; D Howlett (c), K Earls, J Downey, J Murphy; R O’Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley, D Ryan; T O’Donnell, S Dougall, J Coughlan.
Replacements: S Henry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, B Holland, CJ Stander, D Williams, I Keatley, C Laulala.
CARDIFF BLUES: J Tovey; O Williams, R Smith, J Roberts, H Robinson; R Patchell, L Jones; S Hobbs, R Williams, B Bourrust; B Davies, L Reed; J Navidi (c), S Warburton, R Copeland.
Replacements: K Dacey, P Tamba, S Andrews, J Down, L Hamilton, A Walker, C Sweeney, L Halfpenny.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)