The Munster number eight was appointed captain by Ireland head coach Declan Kidney for this evening’s meeting with England Saxons at the Sportsground (7.35pm), with the Irish management waiting until after the game to make a 30-man selection for the senior squad to reconvene at Carton House on Sunday and prepare to face a Six Nations opener against defending Grand Slam winners Wales in Cardiff six days later.
Coughlan, 32, leads a side mixed with plenty of experience in terms of age and international caps as well exciting and youthful talent, including 19-year-old Connacht full-back Robbie Henshaw, all of whom the Cork man believes have been given a chance to make their mark.
“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” Coughlan said.
“It’s not being dismissed as ‘off you go now lads, play your game and we’ll see you again at the end of the Six Nations’.
“We’ve been in the meetings. We’ve being going through game plans and having a look at the Welsh stuff, so the carrot is there.
“It’s time to go out and perform now and I’m sure it’s exactly the same for the Saxons. All those lads will be champing at the bit to show the coaches what they’re worth to try and get into that elite group.”
With 14 capped players in the Wolfhounds’ 23, there are some candidates more obvious that others to make it into the Six Nations squad.
Ulster’s Andrew Trimble is the most senior of the test players with 49 caps, while on the opposite wing, Leinster’s Luke Fitzgerald gets a chance to continue his impressive return from long-term injury with a first outing in a green jersey since August 2011, after which he was omitted by Kidney from the World Cup squad.
In the front row, meanwhile, Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne starts at loose head looking to claim a place at the expense of Ulster’s Tom Court, who is named among the replacements. Likewise at hooker, where Mike Sherry will vie with fellow Munsterman and Wolfhounds replacement Damien Varley while Leinster’s Michael Bent starts at tighthead after making his Test debut in November.
Every one of them has ambitions of more Test rugby but Coughlan guarded against putting individual needs over team objectives.
“I think when you’re playing against England, if you get caught up in your own personal goals, the match will pass you by,” he said.
“It will be an immensely physical contest and unless we’re focused on that we can forget about selection for the following week.
“We all know it’s a massive opportunity for us and if we show our capabilities and our worth against England, then we’d be hoping to give the coaches a tough choice on Sunday night when they sit down to make their selections.
“I think most of us are focused on the week that’s in it and the massive challenge, we won’t be concentrating on anything outside of that.
“I’ve been happy with my own form with Munster and getting to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals but it’s a new challenge and a massive step up personally. I’m looking forward to it.”
Coughlan allowed himself a little pride at being named captain, calling it a “massive honour” and a role Kidney said his former Munster charge would have no problem carrying out.
“It means a lot to him and that’s important to have someone in that position,” the Ireland head coach said. “He has experience captaining sides and you don’t want to be lumbering too many fellas with jobs they’re not used to. It sits easy on James’ shoulders and has done since his underage days and won’t take away from his game.”