SKIBBEREEN rugby juggernaut Gavin Coombes is only getting warmed up.
The Betsboro bruiser feels his game moved up a level during Ireland’s triumphant summer tour of New Zealand.
Coombes has also pinpointed the areas he needs to improve and is determined to step it up again this season.
His best, for Munster and Ireland, is yet to come.
‘For me, the tour was a big step. It was very positive,’ explained Coombes who impressed in the two games against the Maori All Blacks, scoring a try in both matches. He didn’t feature in the tests against the All Blacks, but learned a lot from living, breathing and training in that environment.
‘I was happy to get some game time. There is only so much you can do and show in training so to get the chance to play two 80 minutes is huge, to show the coaches what I am able to do in a game rather than just training. I was happy with my performances and delighted to get the chance.
‘I want to kick on now with Munster and hopefully I will get the chance again for Ireland in November and beyond.’
The 24-year-old back row, who has won two senior caps with Ireland, enhanced his reputation during the tour of New Zealand and feels he returned home a better player. This is all important in his progression as he targets more caps with Ireland ahead of the World Cup next year. He wants to be on the plane bound for France in September 2023.
‘We have four of the best back rows in the world at the moment so I am learning bits off them, which is incredible. To be in that training environment and to learn off coaches like Andy Farrell and Paul O’Connell is huge for my development,’ he says.
‘I feel like my game has gone up a level since the summer and I want to take that into the new season and try to get another test appearance and push on.’
The Munster man is currently sidelined with a groin injury and will miss the opening rounds of the United Rugby Championship, but the good news is Coombes is one the comeback trail. When he gets back on the pitch he is determined to improve his game.
‘I am under no illusions because there are a lot of talented back rows coming up behind me in Munster so if I don’t keep pushing to get the best out of myself there will be someone else who wants the jersey. For me, it has always been the same, you have to perform to stay in the team,’ says Coombes, who signed a new two-year deal with Munster in March to keep him at the province until at least 2025.
‘There has always been parts of my game that I need to work on, and that’s what I’m doing.
‘When you come in and go on a good run, like I did in my first year, people probably thought this is the best out of him – but I feel there is more to come. There are areas of my game that I have sat down with my coaches to talk about and to figure out how I can improve. For me, I feel I am still not there. There is a lot more to come, and that’s exciting. With these new coaches there is a great opportunity now to try and achieve that.’
Coombes is excited to work with Munster’s new coaching staff, under new head coach Graham Rowntree. Denis Leamy joined the province as defence coach while Mike Prendergast signed up as the attack coach, both on three-year deals. Exciting times for Munster and Coombes, who knows exactly where he can improve.
‘Defensively,’ he says, instantly.
‘More big hits … and to be more involved in that game that way, that would be huge for me, to show my physicality on the other side of the ball rather than just when I have the ball in my hands.
‘I spent a lot of time with Simon Easterby in the summer and now Leamy, so I am excited to get on the pitch and put that into action.’
The Skibbereen man was Munster’s breakout star in the 2020/21 campaign, announcing his arrival in the big time with a dream season that saw him crowned Munster Rugby’s youngest ever Player of the Year and also earn his first Ireland senior cap. He was a try machine, too. Last season, Coombes backed up his credentials with another strong campaign. That was also important – he showed he wasn’t a one-season wonder.
‘It gives me massive confidence. I felt I belonged in the team, that I didn’t have a one-off season,’ he told The Southern Star.
‘You see it in a lot of sports where people come and go, where people have one good season and don’t back it up, but last season gives me huge confidence that I belong within the squad and that I can try and achieve what I want to.’
- Gavin Coombes was talking to The Southern Star in connection with Kearys Motor Group announcing its official three-year motor partnership with Munster Rugby, commencing with the new 2022-2023 season.