Munster boost as Howlett returns ahead of schedule
DOUG HOWLETT is expected to feature in Munster's pre-season games after returning to training ahead of schedule.
The All Black legend missed most of last season with injury, but his return has boosted new coach Rob Penney, who should also have Dave Foley (shoulder), Damien Varley (ankle), Duncan Williams (hip) and Johne Murphy (ankle) back for the start of the campaign.
Penney is expected to arrive on Saturday week to start his new role, but pre-season training is already up and running in his absence. The Ireland internationals who toured New Zealand are back on the same day.
Paul O'Connell is scheduled to be back on the field at the end of July, while Ian Nagle, Felix Jones (both shoulder) and Troy Smith (knee) are unlikely to return until late autumn.
Meanwhile, Leinster are close to finalising a deal for promising South African second-row Quinn Roux. The Stormers star will join his clubmate Danie Poolman in Ireland after the centre confirmed his move to Connacht on a three-year deal yesterday.
Poolman (23) has set his sights on wearing the Ireland jersey after committing to the western province long-term -- he will be qualified through residency at the end of his contract.
It appears to be part of a growing trend from the IRFU -- Munster landed former Junior Springbok captain CJ Stander on a two-year contract, while Roux is also a highly regarded prospect at the Super Rugby franchise.
The second-row is expected to join the European champions on a one-year deal, following the departure of Brad Thorn back to Japan. The Stormers hope to secure his return for next season, but the 21-year-old is another seen as a potential Ireland international of the future.
Both Poolman and Roux were part of the Western Province side that won the Currie Cup last season and their departure -- along with that of Stander -- is a cause of much concern in South African rugby circles, where the belief is that Irish rugby is poaching promising youngsters with Springbok potential.
All three players have Super Rugby experience and will come into the reckoning for their new provinces' first teams.
While Poolman has his eye on a long term, international prize, his first goal is to perform well for Connacht.
"I am very excited to be joining up with Connacht," he said. "I am looking forward to learning from their coaches, players and structures. It will be a truly international experience -- I think of Ireland as a long-term goal, and I am confident I can add value to the squad for next season's league and Heineken Cup campaign.
"I am grateful and want to thank Western Province for all that I have learned and achieved, but this is really an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to experience life and rugby in beautiful Ireland."
Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss could become the first of a new generation of South Africans to represent Ireland when he becomes available at the end of the summer.