WALES v IRELAND (Tomorrow, KO 1.30)
WALES new boy Andrew Coombs has been backed to shine on his international debut by a man who knows all about making the leap from semi-professional rugby to the Test arena – Lloyd Burns.
Coombs will make his international bow when he lines up in the second row against Ireland in the Six Nations opener tomorrow afternoon.
It’s a rapid rise for the 28-year-old, who three years ago was working as a software salesman while skippering Newport.
The path from the Premiership to regional rugby and then up another level to the international scene is one already trodden by Burns.
The hooker went from being a bricklayer captaining Cross Keys to earning a deal with the Dragons and then representing his country at the World Cup, before a heart problem forced a premature end to his career last April.
And Burns has backed former teammate Coombs, who he first encountered when they were in the respective colours of Ponty-pool Youth and Newport Youth, to also prove that it’s not an impossible leap.
“Coombsy is in the side because he deserves to be and he has all the attributes needed to be an international,” said Burns, who won seven caps and scored one try for his country.
“He is a hard worker who always gives 100 per cent – that is how he earned a professional contract and that’s what will earn him a cap.
“Throughout my career I had to always push myself to the limit and hope that the right people were watching and were impressed. It’s been the same for Coombsy.
“There will be people doubting him, just like they did me. Some might say that he isn’t good enough after coming up from the Premiership.
“But they are wrong and I am confident that Coombsy will prove that with a great performance against Ireland that will keep those critics quiet.
“He has shown belief, determination and talent to prove that he deserves to be a professional and that mindset keeps pushing him on to be the best that he can.
“He wasn’t happy to have just made it at the Dragons, he didn’t think that was his limit and now he will get his reward.”
Burns is unlikely to be at the Millennium Stadium to see Coombs’ debut – the pain of a career cut short by injury is still raw – but he plans to get in touch with his old teammate over the coming days.
And the former hooker, who has recently started life as a coach, is delighted to see a pal experiencing the ultimate high that he did “They don’t just give caps away, you have to put everything in to earn them and only 1,100-odd have managed it in the history of Welsh rugby,” said Burns.
“It’s the pinnacle and every Welshman dreams of representing their country, to finally achieve that will mean the world to Coombsy.
“Nobody can ever take that first cap away. He will have his mind on the game but once it’s over it will finally sink in what he has achieved.
“I am so chuffed for him and he should enjoy this moment and be proud, I can’t think of anyone who deserves this more.”