3:25pm Friday 1st February 2013
By Will Bain
TO steal a Hollywood phrase, "it’s the feel good story of the year," the Dragons Andrew Coombs’ defiant tale of perseverance, belief, and on Saturday, just reward.
The hugely popular second-row’s inclusion in the Wales starting XV to face Ireland in their Six Nations opener at the Millennium Stadium is a proper Welsh rugby fairytale.
His policeman dad Jon, 49, explains.
"He was 17 straight out of school when he joined the Dragons and was living the dream.
"But then he had two shoulder reconstructions and the Dragons released him because he had barely been able to play.
"To come back from that, not give up and play well for Pontypool and then to captain Newport and slowly work his way back up to play for the Dragons again only to get the bad pectoral injury followed by damaging his knee in his first game back. He rang me last year and said he was thinking about knocking it on the head.
" To keep coming back like that it shows you the tenacity we knew he had, Someone at work was joking he’s been up the hill, down the hill, up again, round it and now he’s come right up through it because no one saw him coming this time."
His big brother Ross, who also plays for Newport RFC agrees.
"For as long as I remember it’s been Andrew’s dream to play for Wales.
"To play for a club and then a Premiership side and now for Wales he’s shown that if you have the right attitude and are determined you can do it.
"He’s a very serious trainer. He turned his garage into a gym and worked hard in the Summer. He’s an inspiration to guys in the local area too (Nelson)."
That dedication began early.
"We’d always be taking the boys somewhere for rugby," says Jon. "I don’t think I had a cooked meal on a Sunday for 8 years, I forgot what they tasted like!
"I started up the mini-junior section at Nelson and we always said we would have a cap from there, little did I know it would be my son!"
"He was a handful even in the under 8s he’d be scoring about eight tries," laughs Ross.
Despite their unwavering belief in Andrew’s ability and his tendency to impress in training, the family were still overwhelmed when they heard he had made the starting XV.
"We weren’t sure in just two weeks with the squad whether he’d be able to get his style across but we all hoped he’d make the bench." said Ross.
"But he gave me a text to come up his house in the week and told me he was in the squad. I jumped all over him giving him man hugs.
"I still can’t believe it when I read the build up in the Argus with him, it’s very surreal but amazing to see your little brother realise his dream."
"I had a text at work saying ‘I have to tell you this before the team’s announced, I’m in the Welsh side,’ it was very emotional," said Jon.
There will be a host of family support for Coombs at the stadium today, with both Ross and Jon, joined by Andrew’s sister Vale, half brother Alfie and his step-daughter Amy amongst those in the sell-out crowd, although Jon had considered going to Nelson rugby club, where it all began.
The thought of the anthem being belted out by 70,000 Welshman and their boy out there in red "is giving me goosebumps just thinking about it," says Ross.
The Coombs’ lost Mum, Elaine, seven years ago adding an extra poignancy to today’s special day.
"Mum was Andrew’s biggest fan, she would be over the moon,” says Ross.
If his family could in the changing room today, their final messages would be "don’t rest for any period of time, don’t let them see a chink your armour and stay strong even in breaks in play. Be Andrew Coombs," urges Jon.
"Go out there and do Mum proud and yourself proud, you’ve already made us prouder than we can put into words," said Ross.
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