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Rogan Thomson/INPHO Gavin Coombes is in excellent form for Munster.
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Munster man Coombes not surprised by growing West Cork influence
The 22-year-old back row has been in excellent form for the province.

BACK WHEN HE was playing underage rugby with Skibbereen RFC, Gavin Coombes used to go to war against the likes of Fineen Wycherley, John Hodnett, and James French.

Coomes played alongside his cousin, Liam, but now all of them are part of the set-up in Munster.

22-year-old back row Coombes – who was man of the match for Munster against Cardiff Blues two weeks ago – recalls Skib having ferocious battles against Wycherley’s Bantry Bay, Hodnett’s Clonakilty, and French’s Bandon in those years.

Having been part of what is now a genuine pipeline of talent for Munster, Coombes isn’t a bit surprised to see the West Cork influence continuing to grow in Johann van Graan’s squad.

“West Cork always had the strongest clubs we played against, the likes of Clonakilty and Bandon, so to me, it’s no surprise that we’re producing players at the rate we’re producing them and long may it continue,” says Coombes.

“Rugby has just grown those teams through the 2000s and there’s just been more of an interest. West Cork teams were winning and success will drive more lads to be interested.”

Coombes advanced from Skibbereen on to play in the Munster Schools Senior Cup with Bandon Grammar, a school that has made huge strides of progress on the rugby front. 

Current Munster senior wing Darren Sweetnam, as well as academy loosehead prop French and out-half Jack Crowley also came through Bandon.

“It was very enjoyable,” says Coombes. “It was more of an unstructured game so I learned a lot about that side of the game.

“With the likes of Darren coming through before me, I saw there was an opportunity there to break through into Munster and I hope there’s a few lads behind me that can see there is a pathway there too.”

gavin-coombes Morgan Treacy / INPHO Coombes can play in the back row or second row. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Coombes played for Ireland up through the age grades to U20 level and advanced on into the Munster academy as he linked up with Young Munster in Limerick and benefited from playing in the All-Ireland League.

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“It’s a very physical league so you learn a lot there. The quality is very high so it’s a great pathway for lads coming from the academy to work on their skills.”

Coombes made his senior Munster debut back in 2018 and has so far racked up 19 appearances, even if he has had to be patient in terms of starting opportunities, of which he has had five.

His preferred position is number eight but he is equally comfortable at blindside flanker and has also played in the second row for Munster as they put his 6ft 6ins frame to use covering that area.

Having had two consecutive starts at number eight in recent weeks, it’s frustrating for Coombes that this weekend’s scheduled clash with Benetton has been postponed but the West Cork man is happy to be making progress and credits the influence of senior players as helping him to prepare to take his chances.

“Learning off CJ [Stander], learning off Pete [O'Mahony] in the lineout, and even moving into the second row and taking my chance there, just being on the pitch, that helps you to be ready.

“They’re very good, they’re pulling all the young lads through. There are a number of us coming through and the moment and they will come to you if they spot something in your game they think they can help you with. They’re very approachable lads.”

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