Robin Copeland has always been a frank and honest speaker and tells it like it is. The former Cardiff Blues and Munster forward is now with Connacht, tasked with the role of filling the sizeable gap left by long-time number eight John Muldoon. The former Leinster Academy player signed a two-year deal and he believes moving between rival provinces or clubs is not what it used to be.
“Rugby is no longer about the pride of playing for your jersey, it’s your job and a lot of guys are shifting towards ‘well I’m not getting what I need here, there are options elsewhere and I can absolutely get everything I need from somewhere else” the 30-year-old said.
In a world of media trained players with their quota of stock answers Copeland cuts through the bull and gets to the point. He knows that expectations on Connacht are lower from certain quarters – be it media or fans – compared to his previous club Munster, but ultimately players seek to put food on the table and that is the thing which motivates them to ensure optimum performance.
“If something isn’t good enough you’re told it’s not good enough (at Connacht) and that’s not the standard that anyone expects because people’s livelihoods are on the line. I’ve said it’s no longer about playing for the pride of your place, you’re playing for your career and your future, your house and your mortgage and your kids. Those are things that are on the line here – it’s not about letting a fan down as such. There’s so much more on the line that the pressure has to keep you driven.”
“I know every time I go out on the pitch I am going to try my best to win the game, no matter who we are playing against. Whether they are a better team than us or not, it’s irrelevant. Everybody is playing for their livelihood and if you don’t take that seriously or a loss doesn’t hurt you, then you are in the wrong game.”
Copeland spoke freely about his four-year stint with Munster, he says it was an eye-opening experience compared to his time at the Cardiff Blues.
“When we set goals at the start of the year at Cardiff it was ‘ok let’s finish top-4 here, let’s try get a home semi-final here’ and then when I came to Munster it was like ‘we need to win this, win this’ and I was like ‘lads, come on, you can’t win everything, that’s just selfish, greedy! You can’t do that.’ They were like ‘what do you mean? That’s where we are’ and I said ‘oh, yeah, alright’. That is their mentality from the get-go. They want to win every single thing that they can.
“There is an expectation and a pressure that comes with putting on a Munster jersey that it’s hard to replicate anywhere else and it comes from every single detail, of every corner of the organisation, pushing to max out resources.
“That ruthlessness and that killer edge is brought into every training session, every walk through, every meeting. It’s there and it brings a lot of pressure and there is someone constantly on your back to make sure that stuff is being done the right way. So obviously I learned a lot from that.”
When Copeland returned to Ireland after his successful two-year stint in Wales, he was 26 and harboured international ambitions. A few months after joining Munster he picked up a cap against Georgia in the 2014 November internationals – none were to follow. Despite now being a guaranteed starter with Connacht compared to his oft-peripheral role in Munster red, he remains realistic about his international hopes.
“I know where I’m at. I’m not in Joe’s (Schmidt) radar at the minute. I’m not worried about not being in Joe’s radar. That goal is 15 down the line of goals I need to hit in the next year.
“If you think Joe is going to blood in a 30-year-old, 31-year-old for a World Cup when he’s got young guys, talents…Look, he’s Mr. Consistency, he turns to guys he knows and young guys he’s blooding in for the next 10 years and stuff like that. That’s how he plays and it’s a formula that’s worked for him. He knows what he’s doing. If I even think about that as a goal at the minute, I’m taking my eyes off what’s in front of me. The first thing I need to do is get in the team at Connacht.”
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Connacht went through a turbulent season last year, finishing second bottom in Conference A of the PRO14, registering just seven wins. Head Coach Kieran Keane was an unpopular figure with vast swathes of the club and the former All Black was duly sacked just a year into a three-year deal, with Australian Andy Friend coming in to replace him.
“Not to bad mouth KK but he was a bit Marmite. A lot of the people liked him, a lot of the people didn’t. I know from speaking to a lot of the backroom staff, that was where a lot of the miscommunication was: there was a breakdown between what was best for the team and what was best for the organisation; what was best for the fans and how do we mingle everyone together.
It’s a business at the end of the day and if everything is not working together, it’s not going to be profitable, it’s not going to be successful. I don’t think KK saw that as much – he wasn’t interested in that. That’s the feedback I’ve got. Whereas Andy, it’s everything – everyone has an input, everyone is building towards something and all those pieces and all those cogs have to work together.”
“I wasn’t there but from what I’ve heard and what I’ve been told, it’s chalk and cheese. Creating that culture is something Andy has tried to do and I think everyone has bought into it. I think, genuinely, it’s a nice, fun, enjoyable place to be. Not just for the players.
Copeland revealed that he’s been close to a Connacht move for the last eight years, he’ll be hoping it’s been worth the wait, but if it isn’t expect the candid forward to be the first person to admit it.
Robin Copeland was speaking at the eir sport announcement that its first broadcast, Cardiff Blues v Leinster will be made free to air to celebrate the channel becoming the NEW home of rugby in Ireland.