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04th Apr 2024

Stung by Ireland rejection, Gavin Coombes driven to even greater deeds

Patrick McCarry

Gavin Coombes

A Munster and Ireland legend is not letting him lose sight of his Test dreams.

Gavin Coombes missed out on the 2024 Six Nations, and the title-winning celebrations that ensued, but is hoping another strong finish to a Munster season can give him a chance of touring South Africa.

The 26-year-old made his two Test appearances for Ireland back in 2021, against USA and Japan. It was supposed to be the launch-pad but he has struggled to get his Test ambitions off the ground, since then.

Coombes has displayed his versatility, again, this season by playing loosehead and tighthead lock for Munster, but has been back in his preferred 8 jersey since the turn of the year. This Sunday, at Franklin’s Gardens, he should be at the back of the Munster pack as the look to avenge a Thomond Park loss to Northampton Saints, earlier this season, and rumble on to the last eight in Europe.

Denis Leamy, a past Munster back row of distinction, summed up the Munster mind-set ahead of that game when he declared:

“It’s Europe, it’s Munster in England against the Premiership leaders. Written off. It’s Munster. You sense it.”

The siege mentality is something Munster thrive under, even if they have to stoke the embers sometimes, themselves, and remind us they are being written off. It has worked plenty, over the years, so whatever gets you through a tough 80 minutes. Coombes is relishing the prospect of a big European away day, and eager to show he can make hay when the lights glare brighter.

Gavin Coombes
Gavin Coombes has only made two Test appearances for Ireland. (Credit: Sportsfile)

Gavin Coombes on Ireland heart-ache

Gavin Coombes has in and around Ireland camps over the past four years but has found his path to meaningful Test minutes blocked by a heap of quality Leinster back-rows that do the bidding of Andy Farrell as he sees fit. He has been in many wider squads only to miss out when the numbers are pruned.

Coombes has a steady band of backers but it is hard to argue against the current 8s in the Test set-up, Caelan Doris and Jack Conan. The Cork native knows all he can do is keep plugging away, and doing a job for Munster. After missing out on the World Cup squad, last August, Coombes says he has time to reflect.

“I was able to look back on that summer, sit down with the likes of Cathal Sheridan and the coaches here – Denis Leamy and Nick Kyriacou. For me, it was all about putting a plan together, where I could own the skills that I’m good at , and work on the areas of the game that were letting me down a small bit.

“I was obviously disappointed not to be involved and, again, not to be included in the Six Nations squad. It’s a huge motivating factor for me, to get there and add to my Irish caps.”

And what areas he went away to work on, Coombes did not elaborate too much, saying ‘I’ve tried to just focus on what I’m good at’ while searching out areas to improve upon.

While Andy Farrell was keen to extend Six Nations finale, and celebration, invites to non-playing and injured members of recent Ireland squads – such as Rob Herring, Mack Hansen, Nick Timoney and even the retired Johnny Sexton – Coombes watched from afar. It has been Munster and Ireland Paul O’Connell, forwards coach with the national team, that has kept Coombes driving on, in the hopes of a better Test future.

“Getting back into that Ireland shirt is a huge motivating factor. I would have spoken with Andy before the World Cup. He outlined what I needed to work on. I’ve probably spoken more with Paulie, since. I’ve been checking in with him and asking what he thinks, and he’d be doing likewise with me.

“They’re good to stay in touch. They want what is best for the national team and want everyone performing at their best. I’m sure it’s not just me – they’ll be touching base with everyone that has been in and around that squad.”

Gavin Coombes

While Gavin Coombes is desperate to get back in a green jersey, it is highly, highly, highly unlikely we will ever see his Munster teammate Antoine Frisch done one again.

The centre played for Emerging Ireland in late 2022 but has his heart set on playing Test rugby for his native France, especially after a recent call up during the Six Nations. It almost certainly means he will be moving on from Munster in the near future as felow centre Alex Nankivell is Non Irish Qualified.

Frisch told French utlet L’Equipe, “I have been in contact with Fabien Galthie for a long time and this contact has never been interrupted. From the moment I was called into the France group, it became very clear to me. I want to play for France.

“It’s where I grew up, I had a Les Bleus poster on the walls of my room as a child.”


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