James Coughlan ready to stand up and fight against Toulon
First requirement for Munster is to match Toulon physically in Marseille
James Coughlan: “We’re confident though that if we’re at 100 per cent we’re as good as any team left in the competition, so it’s up to us to go and show it.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
They may be the same four semi-finalists as last season but opportunities like Sunday’s Heineken Cup confrontation with Toulon in the Stade Velodrome still don’t come along very often. At any rare, there’s no guarantee they’ll come along in the European Rugby Champions Cup, not least for a player in his 30s.
At 33, James Coughlan falls well into that category, but then again one of the plusses of being a late developer – he only made his full Heineken Cup debut four seasons ago – is his career may run a while yet.
In any event, he’s not inclined to look at it as a possible drink at the last chance saloon.
“It’s not about me. You could be 19 and break your leg in the summer and that could be the end of it, these things happen.
“You hear older fellas saying you should never take anything for granted. I suppose I’m an older fella now but you really don’t know what’s around the corner; we know what’s in front of our nose on Sunday and we know what the carrot at the end of it is, we have to have that will, that want, to go and be the best we can be on the day.”
“If that’s enough on the day that’s fantastic, if it’s not then at least we can look at each other afterwards, look in the mirror and say we did everything we could but just came up an inch short or whatever.
“We’re confident though that if we’re at 100 per cent we’re as good as any team left in the competition, so it’s up to us to go and show it.”
Coughlan is fully aware home advantage is enormously significant, citing the historical evidence that only one quarter-final on average is an away win, but emphasises Munster have to stay in the moment, not be distracted by momentum shifts.
It’s also clear he and his team-mates are bracing themselves for the kind of physical challenge that, in truth, Toulouse never quite presented in the quarter-finals.
“We’ve never backed down from a fight and I’m sure Sunday will be exactly the same, we won’t be backing down.
“I do understand that we have to match them physically if we’re going to have a hope; we’ve done that against Toulouse but there is no guarantee because Leinster would probably have said the same going down there.
Match them physically
“It’s an extremely difficult place to go and you just need to go there and be able to match them physically and try to get dominance there; if you do then you are in with a shot. As Leinster have learned, it’s going to be a difficult place to go.”
Watching that Toulon-Leinster quarter-final as they rested up after their own win, not least as it decided the destiny of their travels in the semi-finals, was clearly instructive.
“The thing in rugby is you must win the collisions and Toulon won the collisions; as a result they won the game,” says Coughlan.
“But I did think Leinster created a good few scoring opportunities and maybe left one or two out there; you get one or two of those scores before half time and it’s a different second half.
“Having watched it, it’s kind of like Leinster are a better team than they played against Toulon that day and they would be disappointed the way they performed.
“So you have to look at it, pick out the bits you think you can attack. We know they will bring a massive physical presence; they will be massive at the breakdown and the collision areas and we basically have to try to get as much front football as we can so they’re retreating and we’re coming on to the ball.
Looking at the Leinster game, that was the one big thing: they were able to get a lot of front football. They’ve got quality everywhere.”
Threat at the breakdown
The latter phrase is one he repeats when discussing Toulon’s threat at the breakdown, where they caused Leinster untold grief in either slowing ball down or forcing turnovers or penalties, but one ventures clearing-out drills designed to negate Steffon Armitage have featured in their training.
“He’s a stand out player and we need to not give him the opportunity because if he does get over the ball, and [Mathieu] Bastareaud is the same, in that if they get over the ball the battle can be over at that stage.
You have to try and win it (ball) before it is a battle and get with the ball-carrier as quickly as possible.”
Encouragingly though, this is Munster’s 10th semi-final, double the others three semi-finalists combined, and they have pedigree aplenty in France.
“I suppose we know what it takes to win in France. A lot of fellas have experienced that. It’s a fantastic place to play rugby. The atmosphere will be unbelievable. I’m sure the heat will allow for some great rugby but you have to play smart as well.
“Sometimes it might be frustrating but you’ve got to keep showing up defensively.
“Other times then we’ve got to back what we’re good at; we’ve plenty of quality in the pack, plenty of quality out wide and you back yourself to be able to perform.”