WALES v IRELAND (Tomorrow, KO 1.30)
THE mantra of training like it’s a Test match has served Andrew Coombs well as he nervously awaits his Wales debut.
The 28-year-old Newport Gwent Dragons lock was yesterday named in the starting line-up for the Six Nations curtain-raiser against Ireland at the Millennium Stadium.
There were a few eyebrows raised when Coombs, who this time last year was an emergency second row at Rodney Parade, was named in the training squad for the tournament.
There were even more eyebrows raised when news emerged on Wednesday that he was poised to get a start.
But his call-up will come as no surprise to those that have trained alongside the man from Nelson or those that have locked horns with him.
Coombs is a mild-mannered, polite, nice bloke… off the pitch. On it, he doesn’t mind rubbing a few people up the wrong way.
The lock’s commitment and attitude was what caught the eye of the Wales selectors and it’s what has earned the nod for tomorrow’s opener.
But Coombs, who is quick to acknowledge his chance has come because of an injury crisis at lock, doesn’t intend to be quick fix while Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Ryan Jones and Bradley Davies are sidelined.
“Now I am here, I want to stay for a good few years,” Coombs said. “It is down to me to put in a performance and take that opportunity.
“The last thing I wanted to do was come in and just be part of the furniture and not get a cap.
“I’ve come here with the mindset that if I don’t do it and train hard then it’s not going to happen for me.
“It is about turning up with the right attitude and trying to be as professional as you can be.”
Coombs insists that his swift journey from being a semi-professional back row forward with Newport to an international lock is an unremarkable one.
But he is quick to thank the Black and Ambers for playing a pivotal role in helping him become a pro.
“A lot of people have said to me that I have come from nowhere in terms of my rugby, but the way I look at it is that I’ve come through the system,” he said.
“I've come through the Premiership, played myself into the regional team and now played myself into the Wales team.
“So I look at it that I’ve come through on the right path, albeit a little bit late.
“I was with the Dragons as a development player when I was 21, but suffered a few nasty injuries to my shoulders, which knocked my confidence a bit.
“I went back to play for Newport and then went on to captain the club for two seasons, and I think that is where the confidence started coming back.”
Coombs has turned to Ryan Jones and Jamie Roberts for advice on dealing with the inevitable pre-match jitters.
But he knows he has a job do to and is charged with impressing against a lock who ensured a landmark year started in miserable fashion.
Coombs will be up against Mike McCarthy, who caused mayhem when part of a Connacht team that dished out a 30-11 RaboDirect Pro12 humbling on January 5.
“I played against him in Galway and he had a massive influence on the game,” said Coombs “I have to deal with him and as a player you always talk about having the better of your opposition and that’s something I am determined to do.”