Big interview: Robin Copeland

Battling his brother Neville as a youngster gave Robin Copeland the aggressive edge that’s serving him well in his professional day-to-day life.

He also knows he’s been a lot luckier than his sibling when it comes to luck and injuries. The trick is to take advantage of that with Munster and Ireland.

We will have to do it from off the bench against Sale Sharks at AJ Bell Stadium this afternoon but Munster No.8 Robin Copeland’s mission for the province on the opening weekend of the European Rugby Champions Cup remains clear — stop Danny Cipriani.

If Copeland is true to his word, the summer signing from Cardiff Blues and player of the tournament for Emerging Ireland at the IRB Nations Cup in June, will not be brooding on having missed out on a starting spot as Pool 1 gets underway in Manchester today.

Missing out to an in-form back-row trio of captain Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell will deny the Wexford man, five days short of his 27th birthday, a role form the kick-off but not the opportunity he craves to take another step along the road to a place in Ireland’s World Cup squad next September.

And the best way to do that, as he sees it, is to perform his role of helping to stop Sale’s mercurial fly-half from having an impact on this European fixture.

“They’re a very competitive side, a very strong scrum, strong kicking game and when Cipriani gets going he can really control a game and keep the points adding up and get his team in the right places. So they’re definitely a team to be feared with some quality players,” Copeland said this week.

“So it’s our job to shut them down and make sure they don’t get that advantage.

“Our set-piece defence is very good, our scrum and lineouts are very solid and we try and shut down teams at source so they don’t get going. That’s proven pretty successful so far.

“If Cipriani doesn’t get the ball then he can’t play so that’s what we’re going to try and do. It’s a simple game when you do it right and that’s what we’re aiming to do and that’s what I’m hoping to add if I come on.”

Copeland will have to settle for a replacement’s role today against the English Premiership side but he was in philosophical mood when he discussed the possibility.

“Regardless of what the call is, I’ll have no complaints. Either way I’ll have opportunities. It’s a long season and I’m not going to get down, I’m new at the club. CJ’s playing well, Peter O’Mahony’s just coming back in and he’s the club captain. The back row’s always a competitive place to be so you can’t get bogged down. I’m just trying to get used to the set-up, the structures, the way we play the game. I’m not going to get worried if I’m not playing the best rugby I’ve ever played in my life at the moment and I’m not starting week in, week out.

“That’s not how this club does things. There’s going to be rotations and opportunities to come on. I’m not worried about that, that’s the nature of the game, especially in my position, it’s always very competitive at any club.

“It’s a long season and there’s a lot of great players at this club. I’m going to have my opportunity this weekend. I’m in the squad, and I’m going to take it with both hands when I get on the pitch, whenever that may be.

“I’m more than comfortable coming off the bench, if that’s the case.”

Copeland is still adjusting to life at Munster having spent two seasons in Cardiff where the Blues spotted the former St Mary’s College man climbing the rugby career ladder at Plymouth Albion and then Rotherham Titans. Returning to his native Ireland is intended to culminate in selection for Joe Schmidt’s 2015 World Cup but at the moment it is still about trying to cement a place in a Munster set-up he joined just three months ago.

“I think it’s getting there and this weekend’s the perfect opportunity to go out and show them. I’ve a good feeling abut this weekend, getting a bit of confidence in my carries and feeling strong in defence and the lineout’s going well. It’s all there, just a matter of putting that X factor in, I guess. But it’s coming, hopefully.

“You’ve got to play your best rugby against the best teams in Europe and so why not this weekend? ”It’s the perfect opportunity to up another level and really take it to a strong, typical English side, big strong boys, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.

“I loved the Heineken Cup, I loved the feel of it, the energy and I think I’ve played some of my best rugby in this competition. I feel like it brings the best out of me and that’s what it has to do. You have to do that if you want to succeed and perhaps that’s the reason why I’m really looking forward to it.

“Whatever involvement I have I hope I can make an impact in the game.”

As for the greater ambition, Copeland added: “I try not to look at the bigger picture.

“My end goal is World Cup and that’s where I want to be. To do that, there’s a lot of stepping stones to get to that point and I’m not thinking about anything but the next game.

“What do I have to do next game to be one of the best players on the pitch and show that my involvement is key, that I’m going to be one of the first names on the team sheet when they pick the best team. That’s all any player can do and each game is a stepping stone to something else.

“That’s how I’ve always viewed my career, since I was playing for Mary’s in the AIL. Stepping stones.

“Nothing happens in a straight line or overnight. You’re going to have setbacks and all you can do is focus on the next game and opportunities will come, whether you’re starting or on the bench, and you have to take those opportunities with both hands. If you see an opportunity, go for it and make the most of it.

“I feel like I have a good eye for the opportunity. I’m not necessarily the strongest player at 8, who’s going to barrel through 10 players and I’m not the quickest but I have a fine balance and a good eye for a gap and an opportunity and the footwork to get through that gap.

“That’s my strength as a player and what I feel I have to try and work on and use more of every time I take to the field. Use your speed, footwork, your hands. They’ve served me well so far and hopefully that will continue.”

You’ll get no “woe is me” from Robin Copeland, no introspection nor modesty, a product, he ventured, of a sibling bond forged from rivalry.

“My brother Neville plays back home for Gorey at centre and full back, big, strong guy, and he had two or three cruciate injuries. He’s 25 and a fine player in his own right but bad injuries at the wrong time,” Copeland said.

“We were always so competitive with each other, fighting a lot as kids, always at each others throats.

“That gave me that competitive nature from my childhood, I guess.

“Now he’s very quick to tell me how lucky I am. He’s still so skilful, quick, great offloads... always a reminder of how fickle this industry is, how hard you have to work and how lucky I am to be in this position.

“And the position I’m in is something I don’t take for granted. I don’t have to look far to realise there’s other people who are dying to be here.”

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Munster forward Robin Copeland on rock star pals, bonkers movies, 50 Shades of Grey and things that go bump in the night...

What’s your first memory of Munster in Europe?

“When I think of Munster I just think of winning. That’s something this club is pretty proud of. So I think of Ronan O’Gara kicking, them lifting trophies and slow motion replays of celebrations. Leinster was my home province, I supported them as a kid and played there for a year and all that but I’ve travelled around enough to know now that you’ve got be a part of the club you’re in. It was the same when I was at Cardiff, it was Cardiff first and nothing else. There’s a lot of pride in that and I’m a Munster man now and that’s how I see things.”

Favourite thing about away trips?

“The food. You don’t have to prepare anything yourself and you can eat as much as you want and it’s all there for you. And you don’t have to worry about the rest, everything is structured. It’s all done for you.”

And the worst bit?

“The travelling. Travelling home after a game when all you want to do is be home already and in your own bed. I just stick a movie on or something, read a book, do something.”

Are you a good room-mate?

“I think so. I’m not a snorer, great conversation (laughs).”

Any strange room-mate experiences?

“I roomed with Tommy O’Donnell the last day and he grabbed me in the middle of the night and I was like ‘sorry, am I snoring or something?’ then went back to sleep. Next morning I said to him ‘sorry about the snoring last night’ and he said ‘no, no, no, you’re grand, you didn’t make any noise.’

“I said ‘so why did you wake me up?’ and he went ‘what’?’ I told him he’d grabbed me and he said, ‘no, you’re messing with me’. I said ‘no, now you’re messing with me!’ He said, ‘no, didn’t happen’. I was like, ‘Oh my God!’”

What are you reading at the minute?

“Mr Nice, by Howard Marks (the 2003 autobiography of a notorious drugs baron). I wouldn’t be a big reader but I’ve picked it up in the last few months and I started this one last week. I have the 50 Shades of Grey book to get through as well. I want to see what all the fuss is about!”

The last movie you saw?

“Gone Girl. Saw it in the cinema last week. Mental movie. All the people are mental in it. I was so interested the whole way through, trying to figure out who was the biggest psycho. I love going to the cinema.”

So what’s your favourite movie?

“I really, really enjoyed ‘Ray’ (the Ray Charles biopic starring Jamie Foxx). I hadn’t heard anything about it but I watched it and was like (throws hands on his head), ‘Oh my God, this so good!’ It was right up my alley. He was so good in it, to be able to capture a personality like that and really fall into a role and have such a good voice, it was unbelievable.”

Are you a fan of Ray Charles’s music?

“Yeah, and more so after seeing the movie. I’d listen to absolutely anything. I love music and can appreciate any kind, from country to classic to rock to metal to rap, you name it.”

So what’s on your iPod right now?

Reaches into pocket and pulls out his phone and scrolls through a lengthy playlist.... “I’m listening to Daft Punk at the moment, real chilled and funky. What else, Air, Avici, a bit of dance stuff (keeps scrolling) the Dubliners, Duran Duran.... Fleetwood Mac, Foo Fighters... Jay Z, John Farnham, quite a varied selection and I listen to them all.”

Are you a fan of live music?

“Not really. But I saw Oasis at Slane in one of their last ever gigs, with Kasabian and The Prodigy. Saw Kasabian and Chase And Status at the O2 in London, that was unbelievable. And a friend of mine is in Kodaline, the bass player (Jason Boland), so I’ll try and get to see them soon.”

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