Cardiff Blues forward Robin Copeland admits he has had to take a couple of backwards steps in his career in order to be in line to make his RaboDirect PRO12 debut.
As a teenager Copeland took the brave decision to leave Leinster’s much vaunted academy in order to complete his degree in marketing and events management.
Second chances are few and far between for anyone who leaves the professional environment but Copeland, who is equally comfortable in the second as well as back row, maintained faith in his abilities and, after finishing his degree, found an opportunity at English Championship team Plymouth in 2010.
After flourishing in Devon Copeland opted to work under renowned rough gem polisher Andre Bester at Rotherham. It was in this environment that Copeland’s abilities started to come to the fore and onto the radar of top-flight clubs.
The 24-year-old had the option of moving into the Aviva Premiership but chose the challenge of signing up for the Blues under Phil Davies.
“This was the reason I moved to England from Ireland,” said Copeland. “To play at this level and work my way up.
“Thankfully Plymouth and then Rotherham provided the ideal stepping stone, they have given me a great chance and I intend to grab with both hands.
“I had just finished my degree so I thought if ever there was a time to go for it then now was the time. I didn’t want to regret anything.
“I was at Leinster academy for a year when I left school. I was juggling my college and full-time rugby and in the end both were suffering.
“I knew I had to give up one or the other. I wanted my degree behind me and took a step back from rugby although I never stopped playing.
“I was confident enough if I could get back playing well then doors would open again for me.
“I always had confidence in my ability but in the last three years or so my mentality with regards to rugby has changed a lot. I am more focussed on the pitch and take my lifestyle pretty seriously off it. I am not a complete dryhound but I look after myself and follow best practice.”
Nevertheless Copeland admits the physical demands of preparing for a season in the RaboDirect PRO12 compared to the Championship.
And while he has just about survived Phil Davies’ brutal introduction into the realities of top-flight rugby, he admits there’s one fixture in particular that has caught his attention on the RaboDirect PRO12 fixture list.
“Leinster is on my birthday weekend, so that should be interesting going back there,” he said.
“I would love to be involved but obviously that’s a long way away – we have got Connacht first up and that’s the only thing we are focussing on.
“I can play at 4, 5, 6 or 8 and I have taken a while to get my fitness up to be playing in the back-row at first. I feel I play my best rugby at blindside and to be honest I will just let my rugby do the talking.
“It has definitely been a big challenge and a very different environment. I got a bit of a shock the first time I came down in terms of the intensity and in truth it took me a few weeks to get up to pace.
“Coming from Rotherham, a Championship club, there was a huge step up and it was a tough pre-season for me.
“My season finished three months ago while a lot of these players have only had five weeks off so they had a bit of residual match fitness.
“I am up there now and I am starting to relax now and get more confidence.”