WALES forwards coach Robin McBryde has admitted that new boy Andrew Coombs has made himself a hard man to leave out thanks to a terrific debut on the Test scene.
The performance of the Newport Gwent Dragons lock was one of the few encouraging aspects to come out of a deflating 30-22 Six Nations loss to Ireland – Wales’ eighth loss on the spin and a record fifth successive home reverse.
The 28-year-old carried the ball 17 times, was the main target in the lineout with five claims and got through a mountain of work.
Coombs owed his Six Nations call-up to injuries to locks Luke Charteris, Alun Wyn Jones, Bradley Davies and Ryan Jones and he grasped his unexpected chance.
McBryde hailed Coombs as his pick of the pack along with Dragons team-mate Toby Faletau, and said that his performance gives him every chance of earning cap number two in France on Saturday despite there being other options.
Ryan Jones is expected to be back fit from his dislocated thumb, while Olly Kohn, who made his debut off the bench against Ireland, could provide potentially valuable bulk against what will be a heavy French pack.
But Coombs is at the forefront of the selectors’ minds after his all-action arrival in Test rugby.
“He has really put a marker down for France and that is what you want your players to do, you hand them an opportunity and they grasp it with both hands,” said McBryde.
“There’s always the question of whether a player can make the step up from regional rugby, but speaking to his coaches, Dragons team-mates and to Andrew himself made it clear what type of character he is.
“And he didn’t let the occasion get to him, he played exactly as he has for the Dragons and seemed comfortable in the Test environment. His set-piece work was accurate, he got around the park with ball in hand, his work rate was exceptional and he was effective in defence. He was outstanding and I am thrilled for him.”
McBryde and interim head coach Rob Howley face some tough selection calls over the coming days and are sure to be asked about their captain, Sam Warburton.
The Cardiff Blues openside is being put under real pressure for his place by Ospreys rival Justin Tipuric, who added real energy off the bench against the Irish.
If the coaches don’t want to drop their skipper then it raises the possibility of shifting Warburton to blindside flanker from the off, a move they contemplated but resisted in the opener.
“Justin will always be pushing but we have also got to bear in mind what Sam brings to the team,” said McBryde.
“Would we be completely fair to Sam if we were to play him at six? That’s the dilemma and it’s important to get that balance, and it’s not just all about the breakdown.
“France are also completely different from Ireland in how they approach the game, so there is plenty to chew on.”