After Ireland’s series victory against Argentina, prying eyes have turned to the Emerging Ireland side who have just claimed the Nations Cup in Romania.
With victories over Uruguay, Russia and Romania, Ireland’s youthful seconds prevailed with three emphatic wins. Led by Dominic Ryan, Emerging Ireland contained some of Irish rugby’s brightest young prospects, as they tested themselves out in a green jersey in a less intense climate.
Whilst neither Uruguay, Russia or Romania are among the most feared teams in international rugby, it still allowed some of Ireland’s younger/less experienced players to get an idea and taste for international rugby. One man that will certainly will be happy with his contribution towards the Irish success will be Munster bound Robin Copeland.
Being named Player of the Tournament caps off a remarkable year for the Wexford man. With spells at Plymouth Albion and Rotherham Titans, it was his time at Cardiff that Copeland really got a chance to shine. After cementing his place as the Welsh region’s primary number 8, Copeland won three man of the match awards in the Heineken Cup and was named in the RaboDirect Pro 12 dream team – testament to his impressive season.
His plaudits and talents off the back of the last year and a half have earned him a spot back home in Ireland, at Munster. With James Coughlan’s recent departure, it means Copeland will most likely be the province’s first choice number 8 for the coming season.
Earning his first spot in Ireland’s training squads and caps for the Irish Wolfhounds will give the loose forward confidence, and full international honours await if he can maintain such form. However, he has the injury resistant Jamie Heaslip to dislodge, Copeland provides an encouraging option and depth at number 8 ahead of World Cup season.
Copeland will excel across at Munster, where his game will continue to grow. A physically imposing athlete, Copeland has a good rugby brain. His decision making and explosive ball carrying are two of the most impressive weapons within his arsenal, whilst he has also shown himself to be adept in defense. Copeland has honed these skills over the last season particularly, and it’s allowed him to play with much more freedom and confidence.
He’s a good footballer who reads the game well, and he should slot in quite nicely in the Munster backrow. His maturity will also be an asset to Munster, where he can quickly assume a large role. Partnering alongside Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell would give Munster a hugely physical backrow, whilst Sean Dougall and CJ Stander remain to provide a more dynamic options in the forwards. A much more rounded player than Munster’s previous incumbent James Coughlan, Copeland’s wide game can take to compliment a variety of combinations in the backrow.
After a dream season Copeland finds himself moving back home to play rugby, which is a huge success story and positive sign for a lot of young Irish players. The amount of talent going through the Irish youth-set up, provincial academies and schools system is outstanding.
However, with an abundance of talent in some cases, there are those who will miss out on such an opportunity.
Copeland’s own path is an encouraging sign to those who might not find success in these areas. Copeland left the academy and sought his own way into professional rugby, moving up the ladder at his own pace and leisure. Copeland has not taken the traditional route towards Irish rugby success, yet his divergent path lights a beacon for players to remember they can follow suit – players like Jerry Sexton and Peter Lydon who have taken to ply their trade outside Ireland at a young age.
Provincial academies and set-ups are not the only choice for Irish players, and Copeland’s step abroad highlights the positives of such a move.
Signing Copeland was a great piece of business by Munster, he’ll add quality and depth to their ranks and could be an instrumental figure for them up front over the coming 12 months. Copeland has made a huge impact over the last season, and after gaining a glimpse of international rugby and taste of European rugby, we may see the best of Copeland yet.
Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena.