Howard learning quickly after de Villiers and Smal set up Munster switch

FOR A PLAYER brought into Munster’s squad part of the way through the season, Pat Howard is doing a fine job.

Currently on a loan deal from Western Province in his native South Africa, the 22-year-old impressed in the recent Champions Cup fixture at home to Clermont, as well as during Friday night’s victory over Leinster at Thomond Park.

Howard is scheduled to return to South Africa in February, but should his form continue, Munster may attempt to secure the outside centre on a longer-term basis.

Injuries to several of their backline options, including Keith Earls and Cian Bohane, meant Munster were on the lookout for a player like Howard from September on. In November, the former South Africa U20 international moved to Ireland to answer the province’s call.

Former Munster centre Jean de Villiers, a fellow Western Province man, played an integral role in organising the deal, while ex-Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal, now director of rugby with Western Province, was also vital.

Howard is thankful for both men’s involvement, although he hasn’t had the opportunity to speak to de Villiers just yet.

“I’d asked for a bit of extra opportunity to play abroad, you know in South Africa we’re on a break at the moment, Being young, 22, and looking for opportunities to play, really improve and gain experience, this came about.

Howard says the presence of CJ Stander, BJ Botha and Gerhard van den Heever has been helpful. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Gert Smal at Western Province used to be here and he has a lot of connections in Ireland. He spoke to his connections and luckily there was a gap here. Fortunately, I’ve got a spot here and I’m lucky to start games.”

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Howard has yet to play Super Rugby, but has experience at Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup levels, having previously played international rugby at the 2012 Junior World Championship. Linking up with a renowned outfit like Munster was an easy decision as he looked to make further progress.

“I think everyone around the world knows about Munster Rugby,” explains Howard.

The early impression is that Howard’s strengths are ideally suited to Munster’s game plan. At 6ft 2ins and over 100kg, the South African possesses notable power, which he has used to good effect in the tackle and when asked to be a direct ball carrier.

Howard’s feeling is that he is well matched to how Munster play, while he is enjoying the coaching of Anthony Foley.

“When I got here, they said they were looking for a strike runner, a physical guy who could get over the gainline and that’s exactly what I enjoy to do.

“Every coach is different and every coach expects different things from their team. It’s different game plans, but he’s as good as any. I’ve enjoyed it so far, the game plan that he has and how they want to play.”

Howard [right] looks to haul down Zane Kirchner at Thomond Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

CJ Stander was man of the match against Leinster on Friday night, with his athletic ability being similarly suited to how Munster operate this season.

Howard outlines that Stander’s presence at the province has been an aid in settling in, while Gerhard van den Heever and BJ Botha, both also South Africans, have played their part too.

Howard’s first inter-provincial derby at Thomond Park was an “amazing experience,” according to the centre. He now hopes for many more successes like that one as he continues to learn over the coming months.

Even if his stint is to be short-lived, Howard and Munster will plan on getting the most from each other before mid-February.

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