Sunday 17 December 2017

The Big Interview: Return to action can't come soon enough for back-row

Powerful No 8 Robin Copeland doesn't want to miss window of opportunity as he recovers from thumb surgery

Injury has made it a stop-start season for Robin Copeland Picture: Sportsfile
Injury has made it a stop-start season for Robin Copeland Picture: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

This Six Nations window always provides the full provincial squads with their opportunity to stake a claim for regular inclusion in the starting 15, but on the flip-side of that, it's the worst time of the season to be injured.

The internationals don't want to miss their chance at featuring in Joe Schmidt's plans, while the players left behind cannot afford to lose out on game-time ahead of the jam-packed run-in towards the end of the season.

Munster have at least four more Pro12 games before their Ireland contingent return, and back-row Robin Copeland is in a race against time to lay down his marker.

It has been a stop-start season for the former Cardiff Blues man, and with two tries in eight appearances he is determined to return from his niggling thumb injury before long.

But off the field the 29-year-old Wexford native has continued to reinvent himself, and his latest venture sees him link up with JP Hartigan at Shadowman Sports.

Hartigan set up the company in 2010, as part of a final-year thesis for his Product Design and Technology course at University of Limerick. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, and Copeland recently came on board as he looks to expand his horizons beyond the game of rugby.

"I am doing an internship with Shadowman Sports at the moment. They are an inflatable tackling system. It was designed by a guy here in Limerick," said Copeland.

"He initially designed it for rugby but he has since gone over to the USA and he has really done pretty well for himself selling it to American football teams. I am doing a bit of work for them every week now.

"I'm an intern basically, but I am helping with sales and marketing, organising events and ringing up leads, all that stuff. I'm seeing what it takes to get it off the ground, learning about sales, marketing, and how they target a customer.

"I am using it as a learning tool more than anything else. It has proved great for that. The lads are great in there and they give me every opportunity to come in. My hours are flexible to say the least."

At the moment Copeland has a very busy schedule, with rehab on his thumb an added distraction. He would love to be out on the field playing, and adding to his 45 Munster caps this weekend against Dragons at Irish Independent Park. But he knows he must be patient, and cannot afford to rush things.

"I'm on the mend here with the thumb at the minute. Just trying to keep the head down and work hard.

Collapsed

"Someone fell on it in a collapsed maul and the thumb bent backwards and tore a bilateral ligament in it in the game away to Doncaster in the B&I Cup.

"I had to have surgery to repair it. But it's not that bad, I should be back in three weeks. But it's still surgery nevertheless.

"It is a bit annoying, I thought it was OK at the time. I finished the game, it was sore but grand. It just felt like a sprained thumb afterwards. I didn't think much of it, but when I was told I needed surgery it was a bit of a blow.

"The good thing is I can still train everything else. It's not like an arm or a leg, I can still go to the gym and go on the bike and do everything. In that sense, as soon as the thumb is ready the rest is good to go. I shouldn't have too much to catch up on."

The former Leinster academy player joined Cardiff Blues in 2012 and during his time in the Welsh capital he went on to make 48 appearances and score seven tries between the league and Europe, .

But he longed to return home and fight for his place in the Irish set-up. He jumped at the chance to join Munster when it arose at the start of 2014-15. And Copeland signed his first professional contract extension the following year in Limerick.

But so far he hasn't made the impact he would have liked. Injury has been the main thing holding him back, but he knows his game is in a good place right now.

"My form was coming on pretty well before the injury happened. In that sense I am not worried about my game not being ready. I am where I need to be, I just need to work hard and play to my strengths.

"I am really looking forward to getting back and I feel like I will be in a good place. I am looking forward to putting my best foot forward."

Copeland lives in Annacotty surrounded by a number of his team-mates, and the morale within the group continues to grow after their 13th win in 14 games last weekend. He doesn't see why Munster cannot go on and win three trophies in 2016-17.

"We're definitely not there to make up the numbers. We are targeting three trophies this year. We have the B&I Cup which we are going well in and then we have the Pro12 and European Cup.

"Injuries have been good and in training we have a really competitive team every week and the quality of the defence and attack we are going up against week in, week out in training really stands to us come the weekend.

"That's where we have had that little bit of an advantage. There are a lot of games where we have won by one or two points and that's where those things make a difference.

"A big ambition for the club this year, Rassie himself admits he wasn't really thinking about silverware in his first season, he thought it would be a three-year process but now he sees what he has here and what we are capable of and he has definitely changed his aspirations for the club."

Irish Independent

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