MUNSTER'S James Coughlan has been charged with leading the Irish Wolfhounds into what is expected to be a hugely physical encounter with the England Saxons in Galway tonight.
Coughlan, one of Munster's finest, has been honoured with the Ireland captaincy, but that is not the limit of his ambitions. The back-row forward has also set his sights on earning a spot in the Ireland Six Nations squad.
"We all know it's a massive opportunity for us," said Coughlan. "Declan (Kidney) has said that there are places up for grabs in the Six Nations squad and that's the challenge for us.
"We must show our capabilities against the Saxons and make it as tough a decision for the coaches as possible to finalise that squad."
Coughlan has captained Munster in the past, but this will be his first time to lead his country and he is genuinely humbled by the privilege.
"It's a massive honour to play for your country and even more special to be the first one out of the tunnel. I was delighted when Declan asked me and it's a proud moment for me and my family and one I really want to enjoy.
"At the same time, I think, when you're playing against England, if you get caught up in your own personal goals the match will pass you by."
The Ireland and England players will be well known to each other through their Heineken Cup meetings and Coughlan is expecting a searching test.
"It will be an immensely physical contest and, unless we're focused on that, we can forget about selection for the following week. Above all else, this is a game we want to win," he added.
Meanwhile, the IRFU are not expected to make a significant loss, despite Puma's decision to pull the plug on their €40m shirt deal with the union.
The sportswear giants have withdrawn from all rugby activity worldwide and negotiated their way out of their multi-million euro deal that was due to run until 2017. Both parties are said to be happy with the arrangement.
The IRFU are facing into a challenging financial year, with 3,200 of their 10-year season tickets expiring this season and the repayments on the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road commencing later this year.
The IRFU have already begun discussions with a number of prospective kit providers. However, a replacement deal matching the lucrative terms of those agreed with Puma in 2009 appears unlikely in the current economic climate.