Edinburgh’s Mike Coman steps up for Zebre crossing . .

Mike Coman was signed for his captaincy skills
Mike Coman was signed for his captaincy skills
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In the course of his career, Mike Coman has scaled a few peaks from gaining age-group caps for New Zealand to appearing in the colours of the crack Canterbury province and Wellington Hurricanes Super rugby sides.

But this Saturday, Coman’s adopted Edinburgh will provide a new experience when the 26-year-old back rower runs out against Italian opposition for the first time at senior level with Zebre due to be encountered in Parma.

“I missed the match against Treviso, but I did go along and saw first hand the passion that is around especially when the Italians play at home,” said Coman.

“Maybe at age-group level I might have come across Italian sides but certainly not in senior rugby.

“That’s partly why I came over here – to experience new things.”

Zebre have never beaten Scottish opposition in six attempts so hopefully it will be ‘“same again” this weekend when once more coach Alan Solomons is expected to take advantage of the leadership qualities that led to Coman lifting the Ranfurly Shield, a top New Zealand domestic prize, for Hawkes Bay.

From the start, Solomons identified Coman as a leader, handing him the armband for his first start, which was to have been away to Newport Gwent Dragons, before the match was cancelled.

When it was re-arranged, Edinburgh scraped a first win in Wales since 2009 and Coman’s organisational skills played a significant part as they weathered a late storm while reduced to 14 men through a sin-binning and ground out the victory.

“I guess captaincy is something I have always done,” said Coman. “The captaincy happened pretty early for me at Hawkes Bay so it was a bit daunting at the start.

“I’ve grown into it. The more I do it the more I realise there is a lot of experience around me and if you get those guys helping out it is a pretty simple job really.

“That just leaves you to worry about trying to play as well as you can.

“I don’t do a helluva lot of talking and any bit of experience around helps a lot.

“When I was young Craig Clarke, who now plays for Connacht, was my captain at the (Waikato) Chiefs and he led by his play.

“When Craig did speak you took notice, while at the Hurricanes the captain was (All Black centre) Conrad Smith.

“Conrad was keen to focus on the little things and overall I’ve taken bits and pieces from here and there and built them into my approach.”

Smith was one of several All Blacks sprinkled around that Hurricanes team including Coman’s back row domain.

“I was there for three years but not getting the games I wanted with the likes of (Victor) Vito and (Brad) Shields around. I was waiting for injuries to happen and they didn’t.

“I went back to Hawkes Bay, where I heard great things about what was happening at Edinburgh.

“There was also a chance to speak with Matt Sexton about what was on offer.”

Sexton played under Solomons at Ulster and coached alongside him at South Africa’s Southern Kings franchise. He is currently a New Zealand talent development officer.

Coman added: “Speaking with Matt helped make up my mind about a move to Edinburgh.”

An injury shortly after arrival has proved a mixed blessing for Coman who will be finishing back-to-back seasons a bit fresher than might have been the case.

“I won’t lie. Back-to-back seasons with the Northern Hemisphere season following straight on is tough,” he said. “But it is a big part of rugby now.

“Not being eligible for the Heineken Cup just after I arrived with a few niggles gave me time to settle and now I have well and truly fitted in.”

There is one aspect of Capital life Coman is still adjusting to – football.

“Back in New Zealand, rugby is the dominant sport and I’m intrigued by how huge soccer is here,” he said. “It’s my intention to get along to a game.”

Not, however, before helping Edinburgh try to fulfil a winning run-in to the league season when he is likely to retain the confidence of Solomons who is on record praising his captaincy.

“Mike, like some others, was recruited on the grounds of his leadership qualities as well as his rugby ability,” says Solomons.

Meanwhile, Solomons is set to rest Coman’s fellow back-rower and top try scorer, Cornell Du Preez, after 14 consecutive starts when looking for a first win in three visits to Italy having lost on successive occasions to Treviso.

Zebre are at the foot of the table but have picked up losing bonus points in their last two encounters. Registering points in three successive matches would be something only once previously achieved by them.