Osprey games will 'either break us or make us' - Howlett
Published 07/12/2010 | 05:00
As in golf's Majors, so too in rugby's Heineken Cup -- Round 3 is moving day for the prime contenders.
For Munster and Ospreys, Sunday's lunch-time joust in Limerick could effectively mark the end of their European march; two defeats in such a claustrophobic collective may be fatal.
Munster, the Ospreys, Toulon and London Irish have each picked up a home Pool 3 victory and winning on the road will be crucial to their hopes of reaching the last eight.
Doug Howlett may well be the only Kiwi looking ahead to 2011 without the William Webb Ellis trophy to the forefront of his mind; Munster's adopted son has consigned his All Black past to the back pages of his glittering scrapbook.
"We know we are in for two huge matches against them and that we are really going to have to be at the top of our game home and away," says the former Auckland flyer.
"It is still early days as far as qualification for the quarter-finals goes and everyone in our pool is in with a hand, so the next two weekends are vital.
"In my short experience in the Heineken Cup, these back-to-back games can either break you or make you and I certainly want to experience another tournament final.
"I look back on 2008 at the Millennium Stadium as the highlight of my career because, although being capped by New Zealand and playing for the All Blacks was fantastic, this was special.
"That Heineken Cup final against Toulouse was a great event in a great tournament. The 2011 final will again be in Cardiff, but we are not looking that far ahead -- we know we have our work cut out just to get out of the pool.
"I am really loving my time in Ireland with Munster. I cannot say enough good things about what a wonderful team they are to be involved with and what a tremendous experience and honour it has been captaining such a great team."
The Ospreys demonstrated their renewed mettle with a defining Magners League win on Irish soil towards the business end of a competition they eventually won in Dublin last year.
And their own Kiwi contingent -- back-rowers Jerry Collins and Marty Holah -- will be pivotal to their chances, according to Howlett, whose record of 49 tries in 62 All Black appearances stands alone.
"I have played a fair few games both with and against Jerry and Marty and it is clear to everyone that they have had a huge effect on the Ospreys," offers Howlett, one of only two players to have both Super 10 and Heineken Cup medals in his possession.
"They are fantastic players and it is certainly no surprise to me that they are doing so well at the Ospreys. Collectively, the Ospreys have one of the best squads in Europe -- you just have to look at the names on the team sheet to see just how strong their squad is.
"I guess their greatest strength is the core group of players who have played in a lot of Tests together and, when they come back from international duty and impose themselves at club level, it is those periods of time together that really work for them."
Ospreys coach Sean Holley knows that his side have lost all three previous meetings with Munster in this competition and, after tossing away a 76th-minute lead against Toulon in October, defeat this Sunday is not an option.
"If we find ourselves in the same position as in Toulon -- we were in a strong position for 75 minutes, but it shows the strength of the sides in this group -- I hope we can see the game out," he said.
"I believe we have seen evidence of that and these games are so tight and high-pressured that experience counts for a lot."