'Transition talk' no excuse for failing to deliver -- Reds skipper Howlett
Doug Howlett took the first steps in earnest on the road to the 2013 Heineken Cup final in Lansdowne Road yesterday.
And Munster supporters will be hoping that it will end there on May 18 next year with the amiable Kiwi legend lifting the trophy to celebrate a third triumph for the province.
Despite perceptions that Munster remain a team in transition, of which last Saturday's drubbing by the Ospreys offered further evidence, the decorated winger insists that his team are impatient in their quest to deliver success for their supporters.
Munster, who won two European Cups in three years between 2006 and 2008, have seen their trailblazing achievements comprehensively outranked by a Leinster side who have lifted three of the last four titles.
But Howlett (right) dismisses the notion that Munster can use transition as an excuse to obviate realistic attempts to once more ascend to the highest summit of European rugby.
"We haven't spoken about being in transition," says Howlett, who firmly believes that Munster can no longer afford the comfort blanket required to bed in a raft of new signings and promising indigenous youngster.
"The young guys getting the opportunities don't see it that way either. It's been encouraging earlier in the season that a lot of these guys are taking these opportunities and pushing for places, even when the internationals have come back into the equation."
The 34-year-old is enthused about the novel, more expansive style of play deployed by coach Rob Penney.
"There's certainly method to the madness," he smiles, when asked to assess a style that has seen second-rows off-loading with aplomb.
"After so long under the same regime, it's refreshing for the squad to try something new. I think the response has proven that. They've responded well to the challenges and it's a brand of football that we like to play.
"But I don't think we've changed so much. I see it as us adding another layer to what we've already done. It's another weapon in the armoury for us, really.
"But I don't think this season's Heineken Cup is too soon for us at all. Time will tell. We're not approaching it in that way. We're going to give it our best shot and do what we've been training to do. And we're hoping that will be good enough to do well.
"We let things slip at the weekend, so it's vital for us to revisit a lot of the good things that we were doing earlier in the season. Our priority is putting on a good performance, not just this week, but for the whole season."
Penney concurs with his compatriot's assessment, believing that representing the red jersey of Munster demands its own high standards.
And he assesses a similarity between the task facing him at Munster to that of one of the world's other great club names, his former Canterbury side.
"It's similar to Canterbury, in terms of the expectation from the supporters and the young guys using that expectation as a driving tool to emulate the greats of the past," he avers.
"The whole transition talk that has been going around is something that we've got to move on from. We have to start performing when they wear the Munster jersey. The expectation is there that they do perform.
"They've done really well until now and I'm proud of where the team have come from and where they're headed."
Many Kiwis have sniffily dismissed the standard of the Heineken Cup in comparison to Super rugby, but Penney has been disabused of such a notion.
"It has been drummed into me for the last couple of weeks," he grins. "There is a dedicated show on northern hemisphere rugby back home, which I have been watching with interest over the last few years.
"And when Heineken Cup rolls around you know that things get ratcheted up another level. It supersedes in some regards some of the international fixtures in terms of intensity.
"So, for our blokes who aren't yet internationals, it is a chance for them to benchmark themselves at that level for Declan Kidney to go 'these guys are capable of delivering at international level' and then another window of opportunity opens up for them."
Penney also revealed that he has an excellent bond with Kidney, following suggestions that the Ireland coach and former Munster boss Tony McGahan had a dysfunctional relationship.
"It's wonderful," Penney reports. "Ever since I have arrived here we have been able to have deep and meaningful discussions about all sorts of levels and on all sorts of topics.
"I am really rapt with the openness. Part of my role is to help as much as I can the Irish national team to be successful.
"Hopefully Declan feels he is able to deal with me in the same open manner and trusts what I am endeavouring to do."