He may be a proud Kiwi but Edinburgh skipper Mike Coman will feel a deep sense of honour this evening when he makes history by becoming the first man to lead a Scottish team out in a European final.
The gritty flanker has endured some tough times since arriving from Hawke’s Bay in September 2013 and is determined that he and everyone associated with Edinburgh enjoys every minute of being involved in the Challenge Cup final against Gloucester at Twickenham Stoop. Of course, a big part of achieving that means not just competing but lifting the trophy at the end of the game.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done up to this point but I want to go a step further,” insisted Coman at BT Murrayfield yesterday just before the squad headed south to London. “I’ll be very disappointed if things don’t go our way. So I don’t want it to stop.
“In terms of from when I arrived to where we are now then yes I am very proud but not so much for myself but as a team. We’ve worked hard and been through some up and down results and it’s been tough at times.
“We are in a much better space now, though a long way from a finished product. Little things like at Captain’s Runs I’ve noticed a lot more clarity in guys roles and it seems to run a bit smoother. The guys realise that the little things they do are for a bigger purpose.”
When it comes to captaincy Coman appears to be more of the calm, experienced, lead-by-example type and he said there will be no grand Churchillian address to his troops before the game kicks off tonight.
“I’m actually trying to keep it pretty low key,” the 27-year-old from Nelson on the South Island revealed. “I know it’s a bit of a cliche but you do want to keep things as normal as possible.
“It would be foolish I think to change things too much. In saying that, you obviously can feel that there is a bit more tension around. So I might think of a few more things to say but Straussy [centre Andries Strauss] actually stole my thunder a bit today... he went off on a bit of a spiel.
“He talked about how we should just enjoy the occasion and how in a career you might not get to play in a lot of finals. Some guys might only get one or two so you have to enjoy it and soak it up, starting from now I guess with the trip down.”
Coman has experience of playing in two finals of the National Provincial Championship in his native New Zealand – captaining Hawke’s Bay in both, winning one and losing the other. He stressed the need to strike a balance between raising your game to meet the big occasion while at the same time sticking to the tried and tested gameplan that has got them into tonight’s showpiece occasion.
“I’ve played in a couple of big games and sometimes you want to do something for the crowd and make your mark,” he said. “If you go outside your systems it can be dangerous. I’m pretty confident we’ve got enough experience out there to keep the guys cool and to just stick to what we’ve been doing, because we need to stick to structures tomorrow. There will be a lift in intensity and want to stick to what we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks.”
This time last year Edinburgh’s season tailed off quite badly as they finished eighth in the Guinness Pro12. That bottom six placing meant they dropped into Europe’s second-tier competition. In hindsight that has proved a blessing as the Challenge Cup has injected so much life into this campaign, culminating in tonight’s historic final.
Coman is delighted with the progress that has been made at the club.
“It has been a big advance in 12 months,” he said “It’s nice to be playing for something in both competitions at this stage of the year. It’s a good feeling. They can be long seasons and a lot of guys were coming off big seasons last year.
“Whether you like it or not, for all you say you are fresh, you do notice the benefits of having a break. Guys are fresher this year and there is more depth.
“There is a lot more professionalism now. At meetings even the guys who aren’t playing are taking notes.
“They understand now that if you do get a chance you need to be ready. Saying you haven’t been involved isn’t an excuse any more. It’s been a good step forward from last year but, as you guys have seen, we can still have those games where we don’t quite perform as we need to. We will need to be firing on all cylinders as they are a good side and will be up for it too.”
Having Cornell du Preez, who is back from a six-month injury lay-off, alongside him in the back row is something that the captain is relishing as he believes the South African is a big-match performer. “Cornell has got a lot of X-factor,” said Coman. “He’s one of our more explosive players, he’s got timing and the skill set of a back.
“It’s hard on Stuart McInally who I thought was working well as a loose forward. And it will be tough on Cornell’s lungs... he’s going to have to dig deep. But he’s the sort of guy for whom the bigger the game, the more likely he is to perform. It’s exciting to have him back. He’s a guy who can spark things.”
Coman said he was not surprised that Du Preez has made such a speedy recovery from what was a fairly horrific ankle dislocation back in October. Coman said: “No I’m probably not surprised because I’ve never met a guy like him. He’s so relaxed.
“I used to get quite concerned as I’d be thinking ‘is this guy ready to play’ when he was just cruising about doing his own thing.
“I quickly learnt that he is always ready. If anyone was going to come back quickly it would be Cornell.”