Are you watching Mr Schmidt? Copeland stars in Toulon shock job

Patrick McCarry

Cardiff blues fielded their four British & Irish Lions and three more Welsh internationals on Saturday but their opponents matchday 23 was flooded with talent.

Reigning Heineken Cup champions Toulon started the match at Cardiff Arms Park with Carl Hayman, Juan Smith, Drew Mitchell and Alexis Palisson on the bench. The home side had Lou Reed in reserve on what turned out to be a perfect day.

It was another substitute, Gareth Davies, who dived over by the posts to secure a shock win for a Welsh team that has looked toothless and meek in recent years. Cardiff’s captain Sam Warburton pumped his fists in triumph at the final whistle and looked to enjoy the 19 — 15 victory more than leading the Lions to success in Australia during the summer.

It was interesting to note, however, that most Cardiff players were quick to locate Robin Copeland as the realisation set in that the champions had been dethroned. The Wexford native had been immense throughout. He made 11 carries during his shift, for a total of 53 hard-fought metres.

Having failed to make the breakthrough from the Leinster Academy to the senior side, the 25-year-old sought regular rugby with Rotherham and is now proving his Heineken Cup mettle with Cardiff.

Copeland told Sky Sports, “There’s good players there and there is always going to be competition in the back row… I’ve worked hard, I’ve stayed patient and felt like I needed to take my opportunity today. Thankfully, I did.” He added:

Days like this are why you play the game. The feeling when the final whistle was just unbelievable. It has been such a hard week. To come back after [losing to Exeter] last week, and the criticism [coach] Phil Davies has received — he takes a lot of stick and he’s not out on the pitch, we are. It was up to us today to prove [the critics] wrong. He has a gameplan and we’re behind him. I think we proved that today.”

Copeland said his teammates were ‘clued in’ to the fact they would be facing one of the best clubs in the world. The Cardiff supporters, who witnessed their side lose at home to Zebre in the Pro12 this season, deserved the winning performance for the faith they showed in the side, the former St Mary’s forward added.

The surnames of some of the forwards Copeland outperformed include Botha, Fernandez Lobbe, Armitage, Warburton and Masoe. The Irishman came of age at Cardiff Arms Park and has peaked right on time. Joe Schmidt’s first squad selection as Ireland head coach follows at the end of the month and Copeland has put his hand us as a viable, bustling deputy to Jamie Heaslip.

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