'I am as selfish as anyone -- I want to be included' - Coughlan
Big Interview: James Coughlan
Munster No 8 James Coughlan is targeting a trio of victories as the perfect Christmas present to himself this year.
Coughlan has been in the form of his life for the last 18 months, culminating in a call-up to Joe Schmidt's first Ireland squad. And while the Irish cap didn't arrive just yet, the Dolphin stalwart is determined to keep impressing.
"I know the player-management programme kicks in over Christmas, so it is a great opportunity for lads to make an impression. Some lads might not have had too much of a chance to show what they can do, but everyone will be keen to put their hand up and be counted when they get the chance," he said.
"I don't know if I come under the management programme -- I haven't asked to be honest. I just want to play as many games as I can.
"When you get a good run of games you can get a nice run of form going, so I'll be as keen as anyone to play. I am really looking forward to these games. I am as selfish as anyone -- I really want to be included. When you get in you want to stay in, you know," said Coughlan, who turned 33 last week.
And apart from his birthday, he had plenty to celebrate as two wins against Perpignan has set Munster up for top spot in their Heineken Cup pool -- all going well in January. It was as good a feeling as he has had in the Munster shirt, he enthused.
"I'd say it was up there with Northampton and Castres a few years ago with Rog's drop goals. It is one we'll remember for quite a time, it was an amazing finish. It will live long in a lot of memories I'd say.
"It was a great weekend, we were delighted to get the result. It is always hard going to anywhere in France to try and get a result and I don't think they have been beaten out there too many times in Europe.
"We are obviously over the moon as it leaves us in a good position ahead of the Gloucester and Edinburgh games. It is certainly in our own hands now, which is what you want at this stage of the competition.
"But it is a tough time of the year, with the back-to-backs. The first game sometimes, you might catch a team by surprise, but by the time the second game comes around, they will have looked at a lot of things and scrubbed up on what they fell down on.
"Coming into the two games we knew what we had to do. We were beaten by Edinburgh and after that we knew there was no room for slip-ups.
"We are in a great position now, top of the group with two games to go. It's exactly where we want to be and we can worry about it after the Christmas games."
Starting against the Scarlets, Coughlan is determined that the squad don't let their standards slip on the back of such a good run of results. Just one defeat in each competition all season has Munster in fine fettle approaching 2014, but he knows too well what pitfalls Christmas games can offer.
"We have three really difficult games ahead of us in the next couple of weeks and we really want to drive it on. There is no point in just being top at Christmas -- you need to be top at the end of January and if you are, you have a real good chance of keeping your place in the top four," he said.
"Scarlets are always a tough game for us. The last two times we met them they beat us. They might be feeling a bit sorry for themselves after losing to Clermont in the Heineken Cup, so they will be coming over here to Musgrave Park with plenty to prove and lots of frustration to blow out.
"Then when you look at the local derbies, everyone says it, but there is nothing easy from them. I remember a few years ago in the Sportsground against Connacht in the lashing rain, we won a real tight game and it really teed up our season. I think we went on and won the Magners the same year.
"We just need to treat these games like every other game and not lose the run of ourselves. Connacht will come down to Thomond Park and will put in a huge performance, especially after they showed what they can do in France with their win over Toulouse.
"But we'll be doing everything in our power to make sure that we don't slip, we have to be tuned in to make sure we get the most we can from these three games."
One thing Coughlan is particularly happy about this year, is not having the worry of contract discussion hanging over his head.
Last year the back-rower signed a two-year deal, which guarantees him his spot in the squad for next year, but with new signing Robin Copeland arriving in the summer, he is determined to fight his corner.
"Contract time is a tough time, but it's part of it, we all know it comes with the job. It is a tough time because there is no such thing as job security in our job. We just have to do the best we can to put ourselves in the best position when we finish up.
"Munster is a big club and there is always a few lads fighting for position. There is always going to be the challenge of a new face coming in, but playing in the back-row, it's tough enough at the best of times to hold your spot.
"You just have to concentrate on what you do yourself, put your best foot forward and hope that it's good enough to stay in the squad. For the lads that are here, it's all about looking after your own corner and look after yourself as best as you can.
"There is a great squad of young fellas here. The team is changing regular enough and I don't think there is a regular 15 that plays every week. It just goes to show that the consistency across the group is fantastic.
"We have had a great run and have been unbeaten for a while so we want to keep it going, tick off the wins one at a time and hold on to top spot. Scarlets are first up, so it is important that we get these few games off to a winning start on Saturday night."