9:02am Thursday 29th May 2014
By Chris Kirwan
ANDREW Coombs has been challenged to become a rival to Ryan Jones for the role as Wales' Mr Versatile.
The Newport Gwent Dragons captain has been selected as a blindside flanker in the Possibles team that will take on the Probables in the Liberty Stadium trial tomorrow evening.
Coombs has played 22 times this season and just one of those appearances, against Mogliano in the Amlin Challenge Cup, has been made with 6 on his back.
But the 29-year-old is a back row forward by trade having made his name as Newport's number eight in the Premiership to earn a full-time Dragons deal as a blindside before moving to lock to solve an injury crisis.
Jones is the master of covering the back five having slotted in expertly at lock, blindside and number eight for Wales.
But the 33-year-old, who has captained his country more times than any other player, will not tour South Africa after suffering an ankle injury and the Dragons man has a chance to fill the void.
"Ryan is one of the best, if not THE best, at covering the back five role and giving you flexibility on the bench," said Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde, who will be in charge of the Possibles in Swansea.
"We probably haven't got an understudy to him at the moment and Andrew has the qualities to step into the second row but I think six is his best position.
"He is well aware of what we are looking for in the trial and I am sure he will turn up with the goods."
McBryde selected Coombs as a blindside flanker in Wales' win against Japan in Osaka last summer and the Dragons man could add to his tally of 10 caps in June because Jones is not the only back row absentee.
Opensides Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric are out because of shoulder injuries, blindside Dan Lydiate is tipped to cover for them at 7 but faces a fitness battle to make the first Test because of a hamstring strain and lock Bradley Davies, who had been tipped to slot in at six, is unlikely to tour after suffering a hamstring injury last week.
With Wales also playing a midweek game against Eastern Province Kings, Coombs has a golden shot to make Warren Gatland's 31-man squad.
McBryde said: "I am looking for Andrew to regain the form that he showed when he came onto the international scene and because of the injury situation in the back row there is opportunity for someone to stake a claim.
"He has the experience and this is a great chance for him; he made such an impact on the Test scene and just has to do the same again."
Coombs is likely to play in the back row more frequently next season for the Dragons following the signings of experienced locks Ligtoring Landman and Ian Gough, who join the promising trio of Cory Hill, Matthew Screech and Joe Davies.
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