Former Manchester Metropolitan University student Sean Dougall has made just about as many club rugby transitions as possible in the last few years – moving from the Championship, to the PRO 12 and eventually the Heineken Cup.
The 24 year-old Perth (Scotland) born flanker is now a regular fixture in the Munster back-row for both the league and the Heineken Cup, alongside the likes of forward and Irish royalty Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan and David Wallace, who retired in 2012.
Dougall made his Munster debut against Edinburgh in September 2012 at Murrayfield, and then the following month he made his European debut against Racing Metro in Paris.
The flanker was a former Ulster Academy and Ulster Ravens player who represented Ireland at U19s level.
However, injury interrupted his progress and he moved across the Irish Sea to Rotherham Titans, where he enjoyed two successful seasons before joining Munster at the start of the 2012/13 season.
Sean told Talking Rugby Union that the step-up from the Championship to life in the PRO 12 and Heineken Cup was “a massive step-up.
“In terms of rugby the intensity is obviously much higher in the professional game than the Championship.
“Even when it comes to training everything is done at a much faster pace and, again, with much more intensity.
“In terms of my routine, when I was over at Rotherham it was semi-pro, so a lot of things had to be done off my own back, where I had to sort out my own weights and monitor my nutrition. Whereas now everything is almost done for me.
“I’m usually given a schedule for every day and you’re just told where to go and what to do, so to speak. It’s much easier.”
After studying in England and playing a lot of his rugby in the country, Sean said that “the lifestyle over in Ireland is a lot different.
“The Irish people are all really friendly and everyone I’ve met here has been really welcoming over here.
“But as I say it is different, it’s been a great experience to come and live over here and play my rugby.
“Having lived in Manchester there was always so much going on, but over here in Cork, it’s a lot smaller place and I’ve enjoyed the atmosphere and all the new experiences that it has brought.”
Sean has made five appearances for the Irish side so far this year and, on a personal level, the young flanker maintains that the thing in the forefront of his mind is “to start for Munster week-in week-out.
“There’s loads of competition in the back-row”, Sean added, “and for me it’s all about keeping my head down and letting my rugby do the talking.
“it’s really easy to get caught up in the media and all that comes with being a professional sportsman, but as I said, I just want to put all my focus into playing as well as I can whenever I’m on that field.”
Munster are currently enjoying a two week break from the PRO 12 competition, as fixtures cease with the Autumn Internationals taking place.
Sean explained that “we’ve got this week off, so I’ve come home for the week (to Manchester) and then next week we are back into a tough full training week, and then obviously the week after that it is back into normal fixtures again.
“But I have to say the break has come at a good time, because it is always very intense and so the season has flown by already since pre-season, so it’s going to be good to have that bit of rest-bite and re-group before Christmas.”
Just a month on from Sean’s debut for Munster in the PRO 12, as mentioned, he won his first cap in the Heineken Cup against Racing Metro, and the young flanker admitted that playing in Europe is a step-up again:
“Yeah, it’s another level up again, for sure.
“From what I have been told from people who have played international rugby, the Heineken Cup is supposed to be the closest thing to the top level.
“The whole occasion of it is always enormous, and those are the big games that I want to be playing in – it’s a great experience.”
In the competition, Munster next face Perpignan, who are top of their group, but Sean insisted that rather than looking towards that he has his “eye firmly on playing well in the PRO 12.
“As I said there’s so much competition here in the back-row, I need to make sure that come the Perpignan game I have played as best I can leading up to it and, hopefully, earned a starting shirt.”
After moving through the ranks of Irish rugby, followed by a spell in the English Championship, Sean said that he has “added a lot of strings to my bow and greatly developed my game”, after playing with a number of internationals and Lions already at Munster.
"When I first moved there the chance to train and play with the likes of David Wallace was a great opportunity and it improved all aspects of my game as well as hopefully adding attributes that I never had before.
“Both Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan have been brilliant role-models for me at Munster. The way they go about their business, on and off the pitch, is exactly where I want to be.
“Also, the likes of Dougie Howlett [the former record breaking All Black winger] was great to learn from, he was so professional around the club; and is a person you obviously would love to emulate.
“But it’s not just the players I have been playing with, the coaches at Munster – Rob Penney and Anthony Foley – have both been great helps to me, and I’ve learnt so much off both of them in the last year.”
Finally, when looking at International ambitions, Sean added that “obviously, like any player, I’d love to play international rugby and represent my country.
“It would be such an amazing honour to play for Ireland.
“But my goals at the moment are just my rugby week-in-week-out for Munster; and doing all that I can to maintain a starting seven shirt.
“Whatever happens after that is great, but, I wouldn’t say that my goal now is to play for Ireland: my ambitions are all with Munster.”