ROBIN COPELAND HAS had to work hard to get to where he is, especially after letting his first shot at the big time slip away.
Having been capped for Leinster through the age grade levels, his chance with the province’s academy was left untaken due to the combination of a focus on education, self-doubt and a lack of total commitment.
The turnaround has been complete since. Having dropped off Leinster’s books, Copeland continued to excel in the AIL for St Mary’s to the extent that professional rugby was soon back in the realms of possibility. With a degree in his back pocket and nothing to lose, the Wexford man set off for Plymouth in 2010 and just over three years later is being mentioned as a possible Ireland international.
Copeland was named man of the match after his Cardiff Blues team beat current champions Toulon in the Heineken Cup on Saturday, a game in which the 25-year-old demonstrated all of his best qualities. Powerful ball carrying, pure pace, intelligent passing skills and a relentless work rate were the facets of his performance that stood out.
For Copeland and the Blues, it was a special day.
“It’s a great result for everybody at the club; supporters, staff, players. I think everybody needed it really. It’s given us a big push and it’s probably the highlight of my career so far, to be honest. It was just a great day and a great result.”
There was an early error for Copeland, as he knocked on an attempted quick-tap penalty, but the manner in which he responded to that mistake was hugely encouraging. He told TheScore.ie that his pre-game focus had been on staying relaxed before the biggest match of his professional life.
“I didn’t really want to think about it too much leading up to the game. I just stayed pretty relaxed and then just let the occasion build me up as the game went on. I think with the quick-tap, it was just a rush of blood to the head.
Copeland in St Mary’s colours in the AIL back in 2010. ©INPHO/Donall Farmer.
“I tried to go a little bit quickly and the pass from our scrum-half Lloyd Williams was kind of behind me, I was trying to catch up with myself and ended up messing it up a bit! But I just put it behind me quickly and tried to just get on with the rest of the game.”
That is most certainly what happened as Copeland made a total of 10 carries for 49 metres, including one excellent counter-attacking line break when he went past Toulon lock Bakkies Botha as if he wasn’t there.
In a statement that is symbolic of Copeland’s intention to keep improving as a player, he says he feels there are areas where he could have done better against Toulon.
“I try to believe in my game as much as I can. I look back on the game and I suppose that I could have done a lot of things better. I think I always try to be critical of myself and say ‘Yeah, I played well but there are a few areas where I could have probably done a little bit better.’
I think there’s definitely room for improvement in the performance and I’d like to try and do that.”
Copeland’s path to the Heineken Cup has been less than typical with a season spent at Plymouth in the English championship in 2010/11 followed by another with the Rotherham Titans, where the 6ft 5ins back row scored a phenomenal 11 tries and was spotted by Cardiff.
Last season was all about settling into new surroundings, growing into the No. 8 role that he is now beginning to master. Many of Copeland’s formative years were spent in the second row or at blindside flanker, but he feels he has finally found his favoured position.
“I think so. I played a lot of second row for most of amateur career, when I was playing back in Ireland I was always there. I played a little bit at 6, but not really 8. The back row is always a very competitive place and I’ve grown into that role now.
Copeland’s importance to the Blues has grown over the last two seasons. ©INPHO/Huw Evans.
“I think I’m learning my trade there fairly well and I’m definitely getting a bit more confident with it every week. I think No. 8 is probably where I’ll stay now. I’m happy enough to play six, but I play my best rugby at eight.”
His excellent form for the Blues in recent weeks has led to something of a clamour for Copeland to be included in the Ireland set-up for the forthcoming Ireland internationals, but it is still early days in that regard. However, the athletic No. 8 says that playing for his country is an ambition.
That’s the dream I suppose at the moment. All I can do is just keep playing well here and try to make my performances speak for themselves really.”
If he does continue to perform at this level and begin to push for international caps, then there will of course be the possibility of another chance with his home province. While Copeland stresses that he is happy in Cardiff and enjoying his status as a fans’ favourite there, the lure of Leinster will always exist.
“Ireland is my home and I’d love to go back and play there some day, but I can’t really think too much about it at the moment. I’m just trying to keep my performances moving in the right direction.
“I think it would be nice to go back home, but those kind of things are pretty much out of my control. I’m not going to stress over that, I’m happy being here and I like Cardiff.
“I love the Blues and I get on very well with the boys here. I’ve got a good thing going and I’m happy enough here for now anyway.”
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