Lost amid the post mortems of Munster’s Aviva Stadium victory over Leinster last Saturday was the no-fanfare return pitchside of a former great when the ‘A’ teams faced off earlier that afternoon.
Doug Howlett spent six years terrorising defences with Munster before retiring in 2012 and now he is once again frequenting the whitewash – though the far side of it – as a member of Mick O’Driscoll’s ‘A’ team coaching brains trust.
“Mick O’Driscoll is the head coach and Greig Oliver is the backs coach and I sort of oversee and add comments where I see fit,” said the All Black legend yesterday as he helped launch AIG’s new rugby safety campaign. “It’s great because it is working with the youth of the Munster region and it is something I am quite passionate abut. That’s where a lot of the learning is done, at that stage, and it’s where I feel I can add the most.”
Howlett had been linked to a role in Anthony Foley’s senior staff when news broke that Rob Penney was to be replaced, but the full-on nature of the gig didn’t suit a man who works as a corporate ambassador for the province as well as an investment company.
Coaching until now has been limited to some very light-touch advice for his son Charles who he is allowing find his own way in the big, bad world of mini-rugby, so the ‘A’ side and its less cluttered season is more in tune with where he is right now.
The B&I Cup starts with the visit of Moseley to Clonmel this weekend and Howlett sees a nice symmetry in looking to safeguard Munster’s future sustainability in the province’s boardrooms and now on the pitch as well.
“It’s a lovely little circle and one I feel I can add a lot to.”
Munster’s second-string got their campaign off to a good start with that 18-8 defeat of Leinster on Donnybrook’s new 3G pitch, but results are not the chief indicator of success at a grade where the ability to graduate players up the ladder takes precedence.
So, how does the future look in that regard?
“It’s encouraging. We had a good representation in the U20s Irish team that travelled (to New Zealand) and got to the World Cup semi-final) and a lot of those are coming through our academy programme and into our ‘A’ team now. Geographically, we are disadvantaged in terms of playing numbers. Everybody knows that, but we just have to work that bit harder to identify talent and nurture it. That’s what I see as part of my role.”
The two victories in the capital went a long way to dispersing the doubts that had gathered around the camp in the wake of a stuttering first month to the season and there was much toadmire in the unexpected Aviva coup.
Penny had sought to introduce a Canterbury-style game to the province during his time, one which wascriticised for straying too far from Munster’s more direct and combative roots, but both schools of thought were evident last weekend. Hard, direct attacks close in to the ruck were partnered by a willingness to spread the ball wide when necessary and the addition of some wonderful offloads – a skill all too rarely seen in this country – made for an irresistible cocktail at times.
Add in a staunch defence and limitless desire and the seal was set.
“It did look smart. It was purposeful, it was accurate and it showed variety as well. It wasn’t one or the other.
“There was a good balance of both. I guess that is the target and a bar has been set moving into the season. That’s where we need to be each week.
“They were working towards that for the first month and they showed glimpses of it, but they were let down by other aspects of the game.
“They were close to the complete package on the day and it was just great for team confidence.”
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