ANDREW Coombs will complete his remarkable rugby rags to riches rise by winning his first Wales cap against Ireland on Saturday.
The 28-year-old Newport Gwent Dragons second row will start in this weekend’s opening Six Nations match for the defending Grand Slam champions, marking a truly meteoric rise for the converted back rower.
An international career had seemed so distant for him at the beginning of the season after he suffered a serious knee and groin injury in the Dragons’ very first game of the campaign.
But, after 14 weeks on the sidelines, Coombs made his comeback for the region in December and defied all the odds to battle his way into the international picture.
Following his surprise inclusion in Wales’ Six Nations squad earlier this month, forwards coach Robin McBryde revealed just how highly he rated Coombs.
With three experienced locks ruled out injured in Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris (both knee) and Bradley Davies (ankle), McBryde dropped a big hint that Coombs could well figure against Ireland.
“We’ve had our eyes on Andrew for a while and he’s a player who has really impressed us in the past,” the former Wales hooker said when the national squad was announced in mid January.
“He’s good with the ball in hand, he makes the right decisions and he’s got the talent.
“When you watch the Dragons, he always stands out with regard to his ball carrying ability and his work rate.”
A former Pontypool player, just four years ago Coombs was captaining Newport as a semi-professional while working as a software salesman.
His story has parallels with the dramatic rise of ex-Pooler and Cross Keys hooker Lloyd Burns.
Burns won his first cap in his late twenties after playing for years in the Premiership, representing Wales at the 2011 World Cup before he had to quit the game with a neck injury and heart problem.
Both Coombs and Burns were given their pro breaks by the Dragons.
Welsh speaker Coombs comes from Nelson, near Ystrad Mynach, and attended Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen on the outskirts of Pontypridd.
The 6ft 4in and 17st 2lb Coombs will be up against Connacht’s Mike McCarthy, 31, who wins his seventh cap, and Munster’s Donnacha Ryan, 29, who is set to play in his 24th Test match for Ireland.
The Wales team is due to be announced at 1pm today.