NEWPORT Gwent Dragons captain and lock Andrew Coombs confesses he fears his starting XV place is under threat after his absence on Wales duty.
The 29-year-old is back to skipper the region in tomorrow night’s Amlin Challenge Cup group clash with Bordeaux-Bègles.
It’s a simple must-win showdown for the Rodney Parade side for them to have any chance of making the last eight.
The last month has been a tough one for Coombs after his hopes of winning his seventh cap were dashed at the last minute in mid November.
He was due to make his first Test start in the back row for Wales, but was forced to pull out of the 17-7 victory over Tonga at the 11th hour after suffering a trapped nerve in his back.
It meant that Coombs, who had a superb Six Nations last season after a surprise call-up, missed out on playing in any of Wales’ four autumn internationals which saw them beaten by South Africa and Australia but win against Tonga and Argentina.
Having to withdraw from the Tonga clash at the Millennium Stadium – his regional teammate Hallam Amos, 19, making his Test debut on the wing – was the biggest disappointment of his career.
"I had a trapped nerve in the middle of my back, so every time I moved it would catch and there was no way I could play,” he said.
"It's part of the game, getting injuries, but you knew if you had played well you had a chance to play in the Australia game.
"It was tough to watch the first two games and I thought I may get a chance against Tonga.
“It was disappointing to miss out – the toughest day I’ve had in professional rugby – but there was no way I could have played.
"It was a tough campaign for me, training for five weeks and getting no reward."
But he’s now focussed on making sure he can guarantee his place in the second row at the Dragons after some sterling recent performances by fellow locks Rob Sidoli, Matthew Screech and Cory Hill, the latter cup-tied for tomorrow’s encounter.
“Cory has been playing fantastically well by all accounts so I’ve got to play well to keep my place – I’m just keen to get out there and get on the field,” Coombs said.
“The pressure is on, but I’ve just got to go out there and do what I can and play my normal game.
“I think it’s fantastic the strength in depth we have, it is brilliant for when we have players away with the Wales camp.
“Rob Sidoli has been playing out of his skin and it’s great to have his amount of experience in the squad – the young players can learn so much from them.”