A statement from Munster yesterday made no mention of his destination, but there is no doubt as to where it might be. He had already been linked strongly with the ambitious French D2 club at which Mannix is to be new sporting director.
Pau reached the semi-finals of the second tier’s play-offs earlier this month, losing away to a La Rochelle side that went on to overcome Agen in the decider and avail of a place in the Top 14, and all its attendant TV deals and associated riches.
A picturesque student town with a stunning view of the Pyrenees, Pau’s rugby club won the last of its three French championships in 1964 and is a past winner of the European Challenge Cup and once reached a Heineken Cup semi-final.
The French second tier has been their lot for almost a decade now, however, and the squad which fell to La Rochelle was one dominated by native players, with five southern hemisphere players and a Chilean second row.
At 33 and with an Irish cap proving elusive despite numerous calls to the senior camp, Coughlan was offered a deal that ticked the right financial and lifestyle boxes and will duly leave Munster with what he termed a heavy heart.
“This was a difficult decision for me to make,” he explained. “I was presented with an opportunity that I had to take for myself and my young family as we plan for our future. I want to thank (Munster chief exec) Garrett (Fitzgerald) and the Professional Game Committee for their support in facilitating my request to leave the province.
“Playing for Munster has been a dream come true. I never thought I would have achieved what I have and the whole experience has been life-changing. I am so thankful for my career and the incredible support I have received along the way.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I am leaving but an amazing challenge awaits me and my family. My wife Katri and children Finn, Aoibhinn and Elsie have been an incredible support and we are really looking forward to the next chapter of our lives.”
Fitzgerald returned the compliments with words that many Munster supporters will share. The Mayfield man’s work ethic and abilities made him one of Munster’s best players in recent seasons from the back row.
Munster have agreed to his request to leave a year before his contract was due to run out in recognition of his service and the fact that, in Robin Copeland, the province expects to fill the gap with a player who has excelled for Cardiff Blues.
Coughlan didn’t sign a professional contract until he was 26 but made the move from club rugby with Dolphin impressively, playing 139 times for his home province and scoring 13 tries.
Munster’s player of the year in 2011, he was shortlisted for the award again a year later and at the end of this, his last campaign which ended with the Pro12 semi-final loss to Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun earlier this month.
“James is an honest and committed player with terrific work-rate, and he has delivered over and over again for Munster,” said Fitzgerald in a statement.