9 Dec, 19:48
Munster are delighted to announce the signing of highly-rated Cardiff Blues utility forward Robin Copeland.
Then the following week was my debut against Clermont away and it was certainly a baptism of fire, but all great memories at the same time. It was my introduction to Heineken Cup rugby. I know we lost the game but we got the bonus point which proved to be vital in the end and we got to the final. They were my first two highlights.
Others include that first Heineken Cup season, the All Blacks game, my first game at the old Thomond Park in the lashing rain against Wasps - my five years have been littered with memories.
Coming over I just didn’t know what to expect, and looking back I really had no idea. The reaction of my arrival was overwhelming coupled with the fans support for the team, I’ve never played in a team like that before and it was something I really enjoyed.
I came over with my wife Monique and our little 6 month old boy Charles and we made a really big effort to make it work, not only me, but Monique who was a real star in helping us settle in. And now we have two Irish born kids so the roots are pretty deep at the moment and we’ll always look back on our time here favourably with great memories. Over the five years we would have averaged one trip home a year and we’ve always had a steady flow of people coming up so in that sense that worked well for family at home who always wanted to come and then they had a reason to.
Change of scene….
I guess that was one of the refreshing things coming to Ireland and playing European rugby, after ten years of playing in the same grounds against the same teams in New Zealand every ground I went to was something new. Whether it was a mud-bath against Newport in Wales or the wind beating against you up in Connacht they were all great experiences that I would have never played in before. The French games away in the Heineken Cup were always up there and great occasions - look at the semi in Montpellier, I know I didn’t play but it was still great to be part of that environment.
I didn’t find the game slower here, it was just different. I guess you are always engaged when you are playing and you look for different ways to inject yourself. But I guess with conditions the way they were a lot of the time my touches on the ball would be chasing kicks or making tackles, as opposed to scoring tries or breaking the line, it wasn’t better or worse, just different.
Standing out on the wing, whatever the occasion, whatever the condition – I used to think this is great; I’m on the other side of the world playing a game of rugby in the lashing rain. That Australia game in Thomond Park, the rain and cold there, and seeing the chattering teeth of my opposite numbers, things like that stand out clear as day, and I was more than used to the weather at that stage!
My tries are something that I don’t overly think about and I suppose in years to come they will be something I’ll look back and reflect on more. I’ll certainly pick out a favourite then and the stories may even grow legs with how they were scored!
The changing of the guard….
That first six months where we won the Heineken Cup was a great introduction to a time we could probably call the ‘old Munster’ with the likes of Quinny, Frankie, Leamy and David Wallace. All great characters and I can’t really single them out because they were a group of guys that would do anything for the jersey and that was my introduction. I guess it is what sowed the seed into my thinking of Munster Rugby.
Then this year it was just super for me to captain the team and the attitude hasn’t changed from that group that I was first introduced to. There were a lot more old heads back then but this group certainly has the potential to achieve what that group have achieved. It’s exciting at both ends of the spectrum and it was a privilege to be able to take part in both sides.
I’ve been through this a couple of times now, leaving the Blues and the All Blacks, and there’s nothing surer than the machine keeps going and guys really step up to the mark. That’s something that I look forward to, and following the progress of Simon Zebo, Luke O’Dea and Ronan O’Mahony and these sort of guys. I’ll take great pleasure in watching them achieving their goals.
For me it was a great time to retire because I’ve nothing but great memories and that’s throughout my five years so I will always have that.
My kids will go back to New Zealand with the Irish language and some good Cork expressions, ‘like', 'so' and 'grand', and it’s a part that we love also. We won’t be going anywhere in a hurry so I’m sure they’ll develop a few more before then!"
Video: Doug and a number of our departing players express their gratitude and best wishes to supporters at the final squad gathering. View the video here.