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'I still don't regret coming home because I have had six great years in Ireland'

Robin Copeland has signed for French Pro D2 club Soyaux Angoulême XV Charente.

UP UNTIL VERY recently, Robin Copeland was considering retiring from professional rugby.

With his time in Connacht coming to an end, the Wexford native was thinking about heading down the quantity surveying or construction management pathway, leaving his rugby career behind him.

But somewhat out of the blue, a call came from France just last Friday.

robin-copeland-celebrates-after-scoring-the-winning-try-14122019 Copeland has spent the last two seasons with Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Pro D2 club Soyaux Angoulême XV Charente were on the line. They were interested and wanted to know if the feeling was reciprocated.

By Saturday, a contract had been prepared and after a bit of negotiating on the terms, Copeland agreed to make the move to the town of Angoulême, around an hour-and-a-half’s drive northeast of Bordeaux.

Copeland has signed a ’2+1′ contract, meaning two years plus a possible third year that either he or the club can opt out of. The once-capped Ireland international laughs as he recounts how only last week, retirement was on the cards.

“It was, I was thinking about it,” says Copeland. “Connacht had said they weren’t going to renew my contract and initially I didn’t really want to move away from home again.

“Also, my girlfriend was a huge part of it. She was in the middle of taking over the family business and doing a longer-term plan so going away was going to be an interruption of that.”

Things have changed dramatically for everyone due to the coronavirus outbreak and Copeland’s girlfriend, Harriet, began to feel that stepping back from the family business in the coming years might make more sense.

While she originally hadn’t been too keen when Copeland mentioned the possibility of looking for an offer in France a few months ago, the Connacht man’s agent had sent his CV around the clubs. All of a sudden, with Covid-19 changing everything, the idea of moving to France was far more appealing and Soyaux Angoulême XV rang at exactly the right time.

“Now it’s a case that it’s probably a better thing for her to go. We’ve weighed up all the options and we’re both really excited about it.”

robin-copeland-celebrates-after-the-game Copeland was with Munster from 2014 to 2018. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Copeland admits he knew “very little” about the club when they reached out, but he has a connection there in his former Rotherham boss, Andre Bester, who has been forwards coach in Angoulême since February. 

Speaking to Bester and head coach Adrien Buononato over the phone, Copeland embraced the idea of a move to the Pro D2.

“Andre knows the kind of player I am, how to manage me well,” says Copeland. “In Rotherham, he gave me the freedom to do what he knows I can do. He’s hoping for more of the same.

“France is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. The type of rugby they play should suit me a lot. I’ve got his opportunity to go and probably finish my career in a beautiful part of the world in a team that I can hopefully add a lot to.”

He laughs as he admits that his French is “terrible, absolutely terrible” despite six years of studying it in Kilkenny College. Copeland has downloaded the Duolingo app and a few French podcasts as he looks to cram on the language front.

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Soyaux Angoulême XV are due to begin training for next season on 15 July, so Copeland and his girlfriend will look to get settled in France before that.

It will be goodbye to Galway after two years with Connacht for Copeland, who stresses how enjoyable an atmosphere Andy Friend has created there.

“I loved the city, I very much loved the atmosphere in the club, the way they go about things, how the coaching staff manage the people,” says Copeland.

robin-copeland Copeland has enjoyed being part of the Connacht squad. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It’s a place where everyone is there to achieve goals but also to enjoy themselves, there’s definitely that feeling of making sure everyone is happy. Their man-management is excellent and the players have a good input into how things happen.”

On the pitch, Copeland says it was a “frustrating” stint. He had highs like the match-winning try against Gloucester in the Heineken Champions Cup this season, but often struggled with injuries, being limited to just 18 appearances in two seasons.

Copeland’s career has been a unique one. He broke into senior professional rugby with Plymouth in the Championship, switched to Rotherham and earned a move to Cardiff Blues, where he was sensational in the Pro12 and Champions Cup.

His form brought him onto Joe Schmidt’s radar and Copeland was involved in Ireland camps even before moving home to join Munster in 2014.

“To be honest, I’ve often looked back and wondered was it the right choice to leave Cardiff,” says Copeland. “Because I had such a good thing going, the club was fantastic to me, the style of rugby they played suited me.

“But you make decisions based on where you hope you’re going to be. At the time, I hoped I’d be back in Ireland to make the [2015] World Cup squad and to play well in Munster.”

Copeland started strongly with Munster and made his Ireland debut off the bench against Georgia in November 2014 but a shoulder injury that Christmas “put a huge dent in those World Cup hopes” and he was unable to get back in the mix thereafter.

irelands-robin-copeland-16112014 Copeland won his Ireland cap in November 2014. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

With some excellent back row players to compete against and injuries frustrating him, Copeland didn’t always get a great run in his four years with Munster but still played more than 70 times. In the end, he feels that moving back to Ireland in 2014 was the right thing.

“I still don’t regret coming home because I have had six great years in Ireland and this will always be my home,” says Copeland.

“It will always be the place I come back to and I’ll end up living here.”

First, though, it’s off to France for another adventure.

Originally published at 19.30

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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