JAMES COUGHLAN AND Robbie Henshaw will make their Ireland Wolfhounds debuts but their respective journeys to the international stage have been poles apart.
Coughlan, who was named Wolfhounds captain this afternoon, was playing club rugby with Dolphin, in his native Cork, when he attracted the attention of Munster.
At 25 he was called into squad on a developmental contract and made his debut in a Munster team that contained Ross Noonan and Christian Cullen. They lost 22-13 away to Cardiff Blues.
It took Coughlan three years to establish himself in the side but, since 2009/10, he has become a dependable and industrious cog in the Munster back row.
Henshaw, 19, is in the first year of his academy contract with Connacht and was only drafted into the starting line-up following injuries to senior players such as Kyle Tonetti and Gavin Duffy.
Since his debut – also against Cardiff Blues – he has put in a string of stunning performances at fullback that belie his relative inexperience.
On Friday, at the Sportsground in Galway, Henshaw and Coughlan will team up to face an England Saxons side that features a host of Harlequins, Leicester and Saracens players.
Coughlan made an appearance for an Ireland XV against the Barbarians last June but his elevation to captain of the ‘A’ team demonstrates Declan Kidney’s faith in a player that has put in huge Heineken Cup performances this season.
He told TheScore.ie, “It’s a massive honour [to captain]. Any time you put on a green jersey is special but even more so to be the first one out.
I was delighted when Declan asked me. It’s a proud moment for me, personally.”
Coughlan is looking forward to ‘an immensely physical contest’ against the Saxons but insists he will not be distracted by personal ambitions of, hopefully, making the cut for the Six Nations squad.
He added, “We’ve been happy with Munster and with making it to the quarter-final but this is a big challenge for me and a massive step up.”
Robbie Henshaw and Tommy O’Donnell will both start for Ireland Wolfhounds. (©INPHO/James Crombie)
Kidney is looking forward to seeing Henshaw in action at his home ground tomorrow evening.
He told TheScore.ie, “He’s on a rollercoaster isn’t he?
“He’s probably the youngest player playing international football, which is a great [example] for other, younger guys coming through. He’s probably played more minutes than anyone else [this season] so he’s certainly match-fit.”
Remaining grounded, however, Kidney added, “What we’ll do after this is probably free him up to play a couple of Under-20 internationals and give him experience at that level.”