Howlett hails "something special"

Doug Howlett hailed Munster as a special side after Saturday's Heineken Cup triumph over Toulouse. [more]

Howlett hails "something special"

Doug Howlett hailed Munster as a special side after Saturday’s Heineken Cup triumph over Toulouse.

Howlett has won Super rugby titles with the Crusaders, Tri-Nations titles, Lions series and Grand Slam tours with the All Blacks – but he has never before experienced anything like the Heineken Cup final.

Munster were roared on by a travelling red army of 60,000-plus fans, who turned the Millennium Stadium into a home from home for the second time in three years.

On both occasions, Munster returned from Cardiff as European champions after narrow victories over French opponents – Biarritz in 2006 and Toulouse this weekend.

And after just one season playing in the northern hemisphere, the passion, history and spirit of Munster rugby has already worked its way under Howlett’s skin.

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“I have played Test matches at the Millennium Stadium with the All Blacks but we don’t quite get the same reception,” Howlett reflected.

“This was a fantastic event. This is why I came up here, for these experiences.

“It is hard to put your finger on what Munster is.

“But going out there and seeing thousands of supporters and having 65,000 stay behind after the game to celebrate – it is something special in world rugby.”

Howlett celebrated after the final whistle by walking the length of the field, holding the trophy aloft and saluting the supporters.

It was particularly special for Howlett to make a winning return to the Millennium Stadium, after being controversially omitted from the New Zealand side beaten by France in the World Cup quarter-final last autumn.

Toulouse scrum-half Byron Kelleher, Howlett’s former All Black team-mate who started that quarter-final, once again left Cardiff having been taught a harsh lesson in how to finish off a game.

But Kelleher could not begrudge his old mate the chance to bury some ghosts – even if it was at his own expense.

“He knew it was something special to return to this ground after the disappointing loss at the Rugby World Cup,” said Kelleher.

“It was nice for Dougie to come back here because he missed out altogether on that quarter-final.

“At the end he showed a bit of remorse for me because we knew that one of us was going to lose.

“But I have not experienced anything like this before. Those Munster fans create a great environment – it was definitely home-field advantage for Munster.

“But we are entertainers at the end of the day and I am pleased to have been a part of it.”

Kelleher insists the French authorities must learn immediate lessons from Munster’s victory against a Toulouse side who still have at least three weeks of their domestic season to play.

Key players like Vincent Clerc and Clement Poitrenaud were missing through injury and Kelleher believes Munster, who had not played for three weeks, had a distinct advantage.

“It has been very difficult for the French. With the Rugby World Cup, the whole season has been compacted,” he said.

“There is definitely an exhaustion factor. It is an advantage for them to be able to come into the game fresh.

“I suppose French rugby will start to look at how they structure their competition from now on. They definitely should. How long has it been since a French side won the Heineken Cup?”Howlett has won Super rugby titles with the Crusaders, Tri-Nations titles, Lions series and Grand Slam tours with the All Blacks – but he has never before experienced anything like the Heineken Cup final.

Munster were roared on by a travelling red army of 60,000-plus fans, who turned the Millennium Stadium into a home from home for the second time in three years.

On both occasions, Munster returned from Cardiff as European champions after narrow victories over French opponents – Biarritz in 2006 and Toulouse this weekend.

And after just one season playing in the northern hemisphere, the passion, history and spirit of Munster rugby has already worked its way under Howlett’s skin.

“I have played Test matches at the Millennium Stadium with the All Blacks but we don’t quite get the same reception,” Howlett reflected.

“This was a fantastic event. This is why I came up here, for these experiences.

“It is hard to put your finger on what Munster is.

“But going out there and seeing thousands of supporters and having 65,000 stay behind after the game to celebrate – it is something special in world rugby.”

Howlett celebrated after the final whistle by walking the length of the field, holding the trophy aloft and saluting the supporters.

It was particularly special for Howlett to make a winning return to the Millennium Stadium, after being controversially omitted from the New Zealand side beaten by France in the World Cup quarter-final last autumn.

Toulouse scrum-half Byron Kelleher, Howlett’s former All Black team-mate who started that quarter-final, once again left Cardiff having been taught a harsh lesson in how to finish off a game.

But Kelleher could not begrudge his old mate the chance to bury some ghosts – even if it was at his own expense.

“He knew it was something special to return to this ground after the disappointing loss at the Rugby World Cup,” said Kelleher.

“It was nice for Dougie to come back here because he missed out altogether on that quarter-final.

“At the end he showed a bit of remorse for me because we knew that one of us was going to lose.

“But I have not experienced anything like this before. Those Munster fans create a great environment – it was definitely home-field advantage for Munster.

“But we are entertainers at the end of the day and I am pleased to have been a part of it.”

Kelleher insists the French authorities must learn immediate lessons from Munster’s victory against a Toulouse side who still have at least three weeks of their domestic season to play.

Key players like Vincent Clerc and Clement Poitrenaud were missing through injury and Kelleher believes Munster, who had not played for three weeks, had a distinct advantage.

“It has been very difficult for the French. With the Rugby World Cup, the whole season has been compacted,” he said.

“There is definitely an exhaustion factor. It is an advantage for them to be able to come into the game fresh.

“I suppose French rugby will start to look at how they structure their competition from now on. They definitely should. How long has it been since a French side won the Heineken Cup?”

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