CHRIS KIRWAN: Dragons ace Andrew Coombs could profit from joy of six in World Cup year

CHRIS KIRWAN: Dragons ace Andrew Coombs could profit from joy of six in World Cup year

CHRIS KIRWAN: Dragons ace Andrew Coombs could profit from joy of six in World Cup year

First published in Sport
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A SUBTLE change may well just reignite Andrew Coombs' hopes of featuring for Wales at next year's Rugby World Cup.

The 29-year-old enters the coming season as a blindside/lock rather than lock/blindside.

Coombs is set to go back to his roots and play in the back row where he made his name as Newport's captain and then with the Dragons.

He shifted forward when the region suffered an injury crisis and just stayed there, with his status as a lock cemented by being one of the surprise packages in the 2013 Six Nations.

But last season was an odd one for Coombs; he certainly didn't play badly but he failed to kick on after a breakthrough 2012/13.

And it ended badly when he was surprise omission from the Wales squad that travelled to South Africa, a selection call that will hopefully see a refreshed Coombs come back with a point to prove.

First and foremost Coombs has to show that he deserves a place in the Dragons back row, an area of real strength that sees him going up against Lewis Evans, Andy Powell, Netani Talei and Taulupe Faletau.

And he will have to do a job when called into duty in the second row, which has been bolstered by the summer arrivals of Rynard Landman and Ian Gough.

That versatility will dictate whether Coombs can add to his tally of 10 caps over the coming year and then be part of Warren Gatland's squad for England 2015.

He has fallen down the pecking order since bursting onto the Test scene with the power of Jake Ball preferred as the back-up to Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Ian Evans.

The competition in the back row is just as fierce with Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Faletau cemented as first choice with Justin Tipuric next on the depth chart.

But there remains a spot as a flexible forward available in the squad, one that will be needed when Wales play three games in 10 days in their World Cup group of death.

"Quite a few players have been given the opportunity to cover the back five of the scrum and do it well, but there are no outstanding candidates at the moment," said Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde on Tuesday.

With Ryan Jones playing Championship rugby with Bristol and James King part of an Ospreys pack getting to grips with life without a quartet of Lions, Coombs could well make some headway in the tussle to be part of Gatland's squad.

And the Dragons are sure to do everything they can to get another member in the Wales set-up given that just one player, Faletau, is a nailed-on cert for the World Cup.

There have always been question marks over whether Coombs has the bulk to be an out-and-out lock but he certainly has the tenacity, work rate and ball skills to thrive as a blindside/lock.

He played just one game in the back row last season – against Italian minnows Mogliano in the Amlin Challenge Cup – but Coombs could well be lauding the joy of six this time next year as Wales prepare for England, Australia and Fiji.

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