As Stander heads for retirement, Munster have already found their new talisman

Gavin Coombes has been outstanding in the defeats to Leinster and Toulouse.

Munster celebrate Gavin Coombes' try.
Munster celebrate Gavin Coombes' try.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IT’S NOT OFTEN you see professional rugby players blasting over for a try directly on first phase of a five-metre tapped penalty.

The close-range taps have been back in vogue for sure, but rarely does the instigator blast their way over at the first attempt.

Munster’s Gavin Coombes did it today, though, with Donncha O’Callaghan on commentary on BT Sport saying it looked like something from an U10s game – the big lad who everyone thinks is overage charging through helpless defenders.

It was the latest muscular finish from 23-year-old Coombes, who scored eight tries in the Pro14 this season, most of them from close-range. The Skibbereen man has made this kind of try his calling card.

Munster will be in a tough place over the coming days. Defeat in the Pro14 final to Leinster was followed by today’s loss to Toulouse in the Champions Cup, meaning the southern province miss out on the European quarter-finals for the second consecutive season.

Johann van Graan’s men played superb rugby at times against Toulouse at Thomond Park, but there will be plenty of introspection in Munster over the coming weeks. The province aims to be winning trophies but they haven’t done so for a decade.

Whenever Munster come around to looking at the positives for the future, Coombes will be primary among them. He has enjoyed a sensational season in red and looks like a certain Ireland international, having already trained with Andy Farrell’s squad.

Coombes was Munster’s best player in last weekend’s Pro14 final defeat to Leinster, outperforming his big-name Ireland international team-mates and looking like the most aggressive and confident player in a red jersey.

gavin-coombes-makes-a-break Coombes has been superb for Munster all season. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

While many of Munster’s other key men did deliver strong performances today during the defeat to Toulouse, it was Coombes who often led the way again. 

Stander is usually the top ball-carrier but Coombes matched his 16 charges with ball in hand, as well as making five passes and 10 tackles. 

While Toulouse were the more powerful team overall, Coombes was more than capable of going toe to toe with them, as he has done against every team Munster have played this season. Irish rugby doesn’t produce too many big, powerful players like Coombes.

He has shown his ability to win jackal and choke tackle turnovers this season and while his ability to consistently make dominant tackles will improve with further exposure to the top level of club rugby, he brings a rounded threat.

Stander has done mountains of hard work for Munster since his arrival in 2012, constantly racking up eye-watering carrying and tackling numbers, with Coombes clearly now set to take over in that talismanic role in the number eight shirt.

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Munster must also encourage Coombes’ decision-making instincts around passing and offloading as he attempts to develop into a complete back row player in the coming years. 

Munster has always been a place where set-piece work is valued too, so Coombes will continue to add knowledge in that area.

Coombes is evidently passionate about playing for his native province and hungry to make a point every time he steps onto the pitch, so there’s no concern around work ethic. He also appears to relish the bigger occasions.

As the province get over this latest disappointment, excitement about Coombes’ further potential will be among the most optimistic notes in their planning.

Stander is retiring, but Munster have already found the man to build their pack and team around.

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Murray Kinsella

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