EVEN in defeat Gavin Coombes’ stock continues to rise. Keith Wood has hailed him as phenomenal. Fergus McFadden described his recent performance against Toulouse as outstanding. Eimear Considine says he has been brilliant all season.
Over the last two weekends Munster came up short in their two biggest tests of the season, but their Skibbereen sledgehammer emerged with his burgeoning reputation enhanced.
The six-foot six-inch giant from Betsboro, just outside Skibb town, was immense as Munster bowed out of the Champions Cup last-16 after a 40-33 loss to Toulouse at Thomond Park last Saturday.
He sparkled like a diamond in the spring sun. Coombes scored two tries in the second half, the first was a tap-and-go try from five metres out that the French side’s biggest men couldn’t stop. It was a combination of raw power and quick thinking, forged in West Cork and on display on the big stage.
‘That’s a skill he is incredible at. That was brilliant from him, it really is brilliant,’ former Munster and Ireland star Donncha O’Callaghan noted on match commentary.
‘If you saw that at an U10s match you might understand.’
Coombes went over for his second try of this heavyweight tussle late on, a consolation score, and that was his 11th try of a breakthrough season for the man who honed his skill and talent with Skibbereen RFC.
This was another mammoth display from Coombes and it follows on from his impressive showing in the PRO14 final loss to Leinster the previous weekend; he was Munster’s best player that day and outshone his bigger name team-mates.
Coombes’ sensational form this season shows he is the present with Munster as well as the future.
‘CJ Stander is retiring, but clearly Munster have already found the talisman to build their pack and team around,’ wrote Murray Kinsella of the42.ie, and back in February former Munster number eight James Coughlan told the Star that the future is Coombes.
‘In the long term he is probably the number eight for Munster for the next ten years, if he stays fit,’ Coughlan said. He added: ‘He is definitely the standout young fella of this group that is breaking through.’
Former Munster and Ireland hooker Keith Wood is another who has been blown away by the form of the 23-year-old West Cork man.
‘He has had an incredible season. He has scored 11 tries, he has been phenomenal, he has a great sense of power,’ Wood told Off The Ball after Munster’s loss to Toulouse.
‘You just need to get these guys into the system as quickly as you possibly can, you need to get them on the field to play. When he got his chance he took his chance, as did Craig Casey, Ben Healy and Josh Wycherley.
‘There is the handing of the baton on, it does have to happen.’
With CJ Stander bowing out, the hope is that Coombes will fill the void and take over the number eight jersey. The early signs are encouraging. He still has a lot to learn and rough edges to tidy up, but he’s standing tall in big games.
‘Gavin Coombes has been brilliant. For such a young guy, he was playing against one of the biggest packs in Europe, and he showed his strength and quality,’ Irish international Eimear Considine said on the House of Rugby Ireland on SportsJOE.ie.
In early March Coombes signed a new two-year deal with Munster. He was already called in to the Ireland senior panel for training in February and expect him to feature again quite soon. It’s only a matter of time before the Skibb man is capped by Andy Farrell. And he’s only getting better.
‘Right now Coombes is fitting into the roleset of a power forward. He can jump in the lineout on both sides of the throw, he can maul and, if you’re stuck, he can scrummage in the second row. He can poach at the breakdown and he can throw you back in defensive contact,’ Tom Savage of Three Red Kings (the hugely popular Munster fan site) explained in the Star recently.
‘Not only that, Coombes can add real power to the back of the scrum and he has the explosive acceleration and footwork to break off the base and hurt teams on the gain line over and over again.
‘He can offload, he can sling a pass with the accuracy and sting off both sides that belie his size and power.’
He is getting the plaudits and attention, but those who know Coombes know too that he will keep his feet on the ground and continue to work hard – that’s the only way he knows and it’s working for him.