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'I'm not here to make up the numbers' - Copeland targeting Ireland's No. 8 shirt

The 26-year-old respects Ireland No. 8 Jamie Heaslip’s ability, but has returned to Ireland to take his jersey.

Copeland returned to Ireland with international caps in mind.
Copeland returned to Ireland with international caps in mind.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

HAVING MOVED HOME in order to improve his Ireland chances, this feels like the perfect week for Robin Copeland to show his worth.

The 26-year-old played for the Irish Wolfhounds and Emerging Ireland in 2014, but a debut for Joe Schmidt’s senior side remains a landmark to be reached. The main man standing in Copeland’s way is the seemingly unbreakable Jamie Heaslip.

The Leinster captain has had a stranglehold on Ireland’s number eight jersey since 2008 and shows no signs of relinquishing that grip, having started this season in strong form for his province.

Copeland is fully awake to the extent of the challenge he faces in his ambition of usurping Heaslip and becoming Ireland’s number one number eight.

He’s one of the best players in the country at the moment and [has been] throughout his career,” says Munster’s Copeland.

“A lot of people who don’t really play the game give him stick for this, that and the other, but when you really know the game, you know the work he puts in, how good he is at what he does – both in defence and attack.

Robin Copeland 29/8/2014 Copeland is set for his third Pro12 start for Munster this weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“He’s definitely world-class and he deserves to be where he is. It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of effort for anybody else, including myself, to try and knock him off that post.

“But that’s why I’m here. I’m not here to make up the numbers; I’m here to compete.”

Not that Copeland is spending his waking hours this week thinking about Heaslip. Head-to-head battles are rarely that in reality, although the Wexford native will have the chance to outperform Heaslip at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Instead, Copeland’s focus is on bringing his best qualities to the fore with his new province. The former Kilkenny College student started the Guinness Pro12 games against Treviso and Zebre, but didn’t get many opportunities to showcase his ball-carrying skills, which can be devastating at times.

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Switching from the Cardiff Blues to Munster has meant a major adaptation, which is still an ongoing process for Copeland. Using his skills as best possible within the Anthony Foley’s Munster game plan is a work in progress.

“I suppose that’s what’s taken me a few weeks to settle in to, just to realise what my role is and try to get my hands on the ball. I think my ball carries have been pretty low in the games so far, just because of the different roles and I’m in different positions.

Simon Zebo celebrates his third try with Conor Murray and Robin Copeland Copeland celebrates a Munster try against Zebre with Simon Zebo and Conor Murray. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I just need to learn what’s the best place for me in certain games. That comes with experience and playing with the same players around you the whole time and I think it’s improving week-on-week.”

Haven taken a nomadic route from the Leinster academy – which he left after deciding it “wasn’t really for me at the time” – through St. Mary’s RFC, Plymouth Albion, Rotherham Titans and Cardiff, Copeland is back on Irish soil with clear goals.

Two seasons with the Blues, where he excelled, allowed Copeland to realise exactly what he should be aiming for.

It was a big bonus for me [playing for Cardiff] as I got to play against the Irish provinces, see how I felt going up against the top players in the country.

“I realised that there’s maybe an opportunity there for me to kick on, not just be a number in a team, to be one of the best players in the country in my position, to try and fight to get there.

“I think that’s inevitably why I moved back home, to try and get in that green jersey. It was a big decision for me to leave Cardiff, but hopefully it’ll turn out to be the right one.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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