Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Coughlan desperate to slam brakes on Armitage

Battles will rage all over the Stade Velodrome pitch on Sunday evening, but few will have the shuddering impact of a collision between the No 8s on show.

Amid the collection of stellar internationals peppering both line-ups in Marseille, James Coughlan and Steffon Armitage hold just five caps between them, all of them won by the England back-row between 2009 and 2010.

Yet, while there are bigger reputations on display, it will be the meeting of these very different players that could set the tone for whether Munster are in for as difficult an evening.

Rob Penney has spent the last three weeks plotting for this match and, one imagines, a large part of that time has been concentrated on the Trinidad-born, former London Irish flanker who Bernard Laporte has liberated with a move to the centre of the back-row.

He was simply devastating against Leinster earlier this month, negating the influence of both Jamie Heaslip and Shane Jennings in a powerful performance that combined his trademark steals with ball-carrying.

While Armitage tops the ERC statistics for turnovers won, Coughlan's role is a very different one. The groundwork is largely left to the likes of Peter O'Mahony and Tommy O'Donnell, with the Corkman charged with getting his team over the gain line and setting the opposition's defence on the back foot.

One imagines that this week his remit might expand to targeting his opposite number with ball in hand, if only to negate his ability to arrive first to the breakdown.

Primarily though, he will be used to break tackles and get the defensive line going backwards which would, they hope, take Armitage out of the game.

"He's showing what a quality player he is," the Dolphin man said of Armitage. "He is with one of the best clubs in Europe, the defending champions, and they're pushing on in the Top 14 as well.

"He's a standout player and we need to not give him the opportunity because if he does get over the ball, the battle can be over.

"You have to try and win it (ball) before it is a battle and get with the ball carrier as quickly as possible. It wouldn't be just them though, you could go through their back-row and others, they've got quality everywhere," he said.

"We've never backed down from a fight and I'm sure Sunday will be the same. We're confident if we're at 100 per cent we're as good as any team left in the competition."

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