New Munster loanee Pat Howard will be a man on a mission when he makes his home debut against Ulster on Friday night, looking to impress his coaches on two continents.
The former South Africa U20 centre — signed on a three-month loan from Western Province as midfield cover for long-term injured Keith Earls, Cian Bohane and Tyler Bleyendaal — is looking for the game time he believes will convince former Ireland forwards coach, now Western Province director of rugby Gert Smal he is capable of making a meaningful contribution to the Currie Cup champions’ future campaigns.
At the same time, the 22-year-old is not ruling out the hope that an impressive showing in red might lead to a longer stay on Irish soil.
Howard made his Munster debut with a five-minute run off the bench as his new team-mates scored a 38-12 Guinness Pro12 win at Newport Gwent Dragons last Friday, with the provincial management looking to get a more extensive look at their new signing at Thomond Park on Friday night.
“I’ve been sitting behind Juan de Jongh at Western Province, he’s a great player and it’s hard to get ahead, he’s been on such good form lately and I play in the same position as him,” Howard explained.
“I’m a 13 obviously so what I asked is permission to get game time elsewhere on loan or release or something like that.
“Gert Smal coached Ireland and he had contacts over here and he actually organised this so there are on off time (in South Africa) at the moment.
“They are on holiday and they are just getting into pre-season at the moment so he said it’s the perfect opportunity now to go get game time and get more experience and come back all the better for it.”
With former Munster man Jean de Villiers, the Springbok captain, recommending his WP team-mate Howard to Munster head coach Anthony Foley, and Smal’s inside knowledge of the Irish game, the former Baby Bok had plenty of recommendations about moving to Ireland.
“It’s a great club, everybody in the world knows it. A few of the guys at Western Province say when they think of going overseas they’re going to want to go to Munster or Leinster.
“It is a well renowned place and what (Smal) said was that it’s a lot of pressure to play for such a club, I can’t come here and think South Africa is better or anything. It’s a very good club to play for and a very strong team.
“It is until February until Super Rugby starts again.”
Howard has some good company from his homeland at Munster and BJ Botha, CJ Stander and Gerhard van den Heever have helped him settle in.
“CJ, BJ and Gerhard, I knew him before at Western Province a year and a half ago, it was very much a case of they took me in and took me out for dinner and a few Guinnesses so it nice to have them around and very nice to have familiar people around.”
There are also some familiar names on the Ulster squad Howard will face this weekend, with Ireland-capped No.8 Robbie Diack a past pupil of Howard’s Natal school, Michaelhouse, though the match may come to soon for South African star Ruan Pienaar, who is recovering from injury.
“I’m looking forward to it. I hear Thomond Park is amazing. Gwent Dragons is one thing, it was a small field and small stadium but Thomond isn’t in the same league apparently. I’m very much looking forward to that.
“You hear about it all over the world. I looked forward to sitting down on Saturday in South Africa and watching the games that were on here.
“Personally, I would like to get as much game time as I can and improve my own game that’s what I’ve been lacking at Province due to other good players you know. It’s no fault of anybody really, but just get a bit of game time get a bit of experience to improve my own game as much as I can and to contribute to whatever team I am playing for.
“Hopefully, if I can impress a few people maybe I have a future here.”
Paul O’Connell, it seems, is the person Howard needs to impress the most and the South African’s proximity to the Ireland captain, whom he was due to meet for the first time on the veteran lock’s return from international camp, has caused quite a stir here and back home.
“Everybody I talk to in Limerick or meet here ask you ‘have you met Paul O’Connell’ and it’s ‘what’s he like, what’s he like’ so I haven’t met him yet so everybody wants to know about him.
“My dad is even mentioning it. ‘You’re going to be meeting Paul O’Connell that’s just amazing isn’t it?’”
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