For Copeland, the journey from underage rugby in Wexford to a starting place in the Ireland Wolfhounds team that takes on the England Saxons in Gloucester tomorrow was a far more circuitous affair.
The route from Gorey to Kilkenny College and on to Leinster’s academy was simple enough but then came the detour through St Mary’s, Plymouth Albion, Rotherham Titans and then Cardiff from where he joined up with Joe Schmidt’s squad this week.
Quite the journey. The low point?
“Well, when I first moved to Plymouth, I was living in a tiny, shitty apartment attached to the club that had mushrooms growing in the bathroom, it was freezing cold, damp, horrible. My contract was so bad I got a job behind the bar in the golf club as well to try and pay for it.”
Copeland is a different player these days to the one that played AIL with Mary’s. Literally. A second row back then, he has morphed into a bigger and much better No 8 with a reputation for rampaging runs. His prowess with Cardiff has already earned him a two-year deal back home with Munster which starts next summer and it’s a move he admits was prompted by a chat with Joe Schmidt last summer.
“It was a big deciding factor in me going to Munster. It was a chance to be at home, move up the ladder. I’d rang and talked to Joe about that. He gave me advice and said: ‘if you want to play for Ireland the best place for you to be is in Ireland’.
“Being here, this week, has really shown me what he was talking about. The systems they run have filtered down into club level. I had a bit more homework to do than a lot of the guys who had played for the clubs.”
Copeland may have taken the road less travelled but his motivations this week are no different to every one of the 23 Wolfhounds named yesterday, regardless of age or experience.
Unlike recent ‘A’ sides, tomorrow’s will lean more towards youth with scrum-half Isaac Boss and Fergus McFadden the only ones to have earned double-digit caps while three of the starting XV will play their first adult game for their country.
Among them, of course, is Copeland who forms an exciting back row alongside captain Rhys Ruddock and Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell with the latter pushing Chris Henry hard for the seven jersey left vacant by Sean O’Brien.
The other ‘newbies’ are Ulster hooker Rob Herring and Leinster tighthead Martin Moore while Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy will hope to bring some club understanding to the second row.
Ian Madigan gets the nod at 10, probably in recognition of his relative lack of game time in comparison to Paddy Jackson this season, and others besides look to have been given the nod with fitness reasons in mind.
It is a squad picked by committee with head coach Anthony Foley, assistant Neil Doak, Joe Schmidt, Less Kiss and John Plumtree all having a say and the question is whether such collective thinking is replicated on the pitch.
Ireland used 33 players in the 2013 Six Nations and the opener against Scotland is just nine days’ away. Players will play for senior places at Kingsholm even if Foley was adamant that the team and victory remain paramount come kick-off.
“It is about emphasising that the team is more important than the individual, making sure that we’re all pulling the same way,” said Foley.
“Win the game on Saturday and that puts you in a good boat. That’s everybody.”
Meanwhile, Damian Varley has left Ireland’s team base and returned to Munster after failing to meet return-to-play protocols this week.
The hooker was concussed during the province’s Heineken Cup defeat of Edinburgh last Sunday.
IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS: F Jones (Munster), F McFadden (Leinster), R Henshaw (Connacht), D Cave (Ulster), C Gilroy (Ulster), I Madigan (Leinster), I Boss (Leinster); D Kilcoyne (Munster), R Herring (Ulster), M Moore (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), D Tuohy (Ulster), R Ruddock (Leinster) capt, T O’Donnell (Munster), R Copeland (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: R Strauss (Leinster), J McGrath (Leinster), S Archer (Munster), R Diack (Ulster), J Murphy (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), I Keatley (Munster), S Zebo (Munster).
ENGLAND SAXONS: E Daly (Wasps); A Watson (Bath), M Hopper (Harlequins), S Hill (Exeter), C Sharples (Gloucester); F Burns (Gloucester), J Simpson (Wasps); A Waller (Northampton), J George (Saracens), T Mercey (Northampton), C Matthews (Harlequins), G Kruis (Saracens), C Clark (Northampton, capt), L Wallace (Harlequins), D Ewers (Exeter).