Doug Howlett may appear just a frustrated spectator at the moment as he recovers from injury, but his work behind the scenes at Munster has helped mould wing sensation Simon Zebo into his almost natural successor.
In a short space of time, Zebo has come from rookie to hero and, yesterday, as he contemplates participation in two of the biggest game of his fledgling career, a RaboDirect Pro12 clash with Leinster and a Heineken Cup quarter-final with Ulster, he paid tribute to Howlett for giving him a big helping hand.
“Whenever Dougie talks, you listen, straight away because he doesn’t talk nonsense,” says Zebo. “He always has the best advice to give you and he won’t talk unless it is needed. Everything he does, I’m just analysing him and trying to emulate him.”
Zebo will look back on parts of this season with a huge degree of satisfaction, not least on his hat-trick of tries in Munster’s victory over Northampton Saints to help seal the Heineken Cup quarter-final home draw.
But he’s not even contemplating the possibility of walking out for a Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster early next month. He won’t look beyond Saturday night’s Rabo clash with Leinster at Thomond Park, his first experience of a Munster-Leinster clash.
And he can’t wait, reminding us of the pleasure he felt when he saw, on television, Ronan O’Gara score a crucial try in the Heineken Cup semi-final of 2006 en route to Munster’s first title.
“Obviously, it is a special game, I have been going to them and watching them on television up to now, and seeing the intensity they all bring together on the pitch, it is going to awesome. It is good to play in these pressure situations, that is how you find out how good you are as a player and how you get better. I can’t wait.”
The RaboDirect Pro12 is not quite the Heineken Cup, but there are important points to be earned, and Munster are hanging by a thread to gain a home semi-final. Zebo knows they need to beat Leinster to help them achieve that.
Zebo explained: “There was always a bit of a buzz around the changing room when they were getting ready to play Leinster; it was always something special. So going into this week and being part of it is something new and something I will get to experience.”
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