Saturday 20 January 2018

Surprise pick Coughlan won't give up place without a fight

David Kelly

David Kelly

When James Coughlan's mobile buzzed 10 days ago with an incoming call from Tony McGahan, his heart sank. He need not have worried. Nor the Munster fans when his name appeared on Friday's team-sheet ahead of the crunch Heineken Cup quarter-final.

"When he rang I thought I was being dropped completely, so it's nice to be told I was going to be starting," Coughlan laughs at the recollection.

His call-up was mocked as an injection of youth -- he is 29 next birthday -- into an ageing pack: the other seven were all in their 30s. Again, Munster fans need not have worried.

An early charge-down of Stephen Myler's first attempted bomb relayed the No 8's intensity on his first Heineken Cup start (he had previously made five appearances from the bench).

Then, when he gruffly dispatched English international league convert Chris Ashton -- a 'hard' northerner wearing, ahem, pink boots -- to the seat of his pants into touch, the crowd's response acclaimed the latest induction into Munster's Heineken Cup folklore.

"It's always good to get that initial impact to get rid of any nerves or whatever," he smiles. "Every little thing is a contest -- all the kicks, retreats, breakdowns, charge-downs, that's the intensity that you have to bring to it; every little thing you do is a contest.

"And over the 80 minutes I think we won more than we lost and I think that was the winning and losing of it. It wasn't hard for me to forge that intensity.

"The intensity is different and the level is different, and it's up to you then to step up -- to put your hand up and say, 'yeah, I'm here, and I'm going to stay here as long as I can'. Nobody wants to hand the jersey over. We always say that we're only keeping it warm for the next guy but you want to keep it warm for as long if as you can."

Coughlan may have Biarritz opposite number Imanol Harinordoquy in his sights come May but the Galway Sportsgrounds next Sunday is a more immediate concern.

"They're the days you want to be involved in, they're what professional rugby is all about," he said. "These are special occasions but we're back into the real world now on Sunday. Connacht won on Saturday and I don't think they've been beaten at home since September, which is fantastic.

"And us going up there now, it's going to be another chance for them to throw their hand in so this result is great but we won't look outside it."

Irish Independent

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