Howlett may get lead role for Munster in O’Connell absence

Munster’s Rob Penney and Paul O’Connell will have a serious discussion en-route to Glasgow tomorrow as they help launch the new RaboDirect Pro12 campaign.

The main topic — whether Doug Howlett will take the captain’s armband on a short or long-term basis this season.

Penney has added to the debate on whether to reappoint the currently injured O’Connell or go down the Leinster route of a few seasons ago in naming a skipper with less or no international commitments.

“The decision has been pretty much made and we will release that to the team next week; you guys [press] will be second on the list to know,” he said when asked about the subject.

The new coach is unlikely to make any alterations as Leinster did in replacing Brian O’Driscoll with Leo Cullen, but he will look for some stability in the periods when O’Connell will be away on international duty in November and the first three months of next year. Howlett is the favourite to assume the role, the inspirational Kiwi having been named to lead the team in the two pre-season games to date.

Meanwhile, in the build up to Friday’s clash with London Irish at Musgrave Park – when some of the interest will centre around the return of former Munster scrum half Tomás O’Leary to his home ground – Ian Keatley is looking forward to getting another opportunity to press his claims for a regular place in the team.

However, he will be looking to a better individual and collective display, noting how Munster suffered at times against Bristol at Musgrave Park on Friday.

“We got the win so I would say it was an improvement. We did some good stuff last week [against Stade Rochelais] but had a lot of unforced errors. They were a very big French side and that’s where we lost the game.

“This week, we still had some errors with the weather conditions and a few [missed] penalties but we had a good chat at half-time, saw where we were making ground and I think we exploited that.”

Keatley figures Munster will come good sooner rather than later and is excited to be given the opportunity to play alongside fast running backs such as newcomers Luke O’Dea and Sean Scanlon.

“It’s only the second game of the season, a new game plan and the lads are enjoying a free style type of game. The conditions on Friday took a toll but we’re going to have to cope with that during the season.

“Hopefully having the fast lads out on the wings exploiting the space will mean we can create a bit of havoc.”


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