Jeremy Loughman wants his first Ireland cap on Saturday to be ‘a stepping stone’ to more as he gets set for his first taste of international rugby against Fiji.
Following in the footsteps of Jimmy O’Brien last weekend, Loughman will make his Test debut in the second match of the Bank of Ireland Nations Series, packing down with Rob Herring and first-time captain Tadhg Furlong.
His impressive form with Munster saw him called into the Ireland squad ahead of last March’s Guinness Six Nations win over England, while he returned from a head injury to help Ireland beat the Māori All Blacks during the summer tour.
Last Friday he gained more experience in the green jersey, this time for Ireland ‘A’ in a chastening defeat to the All Blacks XV, and now all his hard work has paid off in getting the opportunity to play for the senior team.
It has been a long road to Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off at the Aviva Stadium for the 27-year-old Reno-born prop, admittedly ‘a rollercoaster’ in his own words.
From Athy RFC and Ardscoil na Tríonóide, alongside another future star in Joey Carbery, and Blackrock College, through to his initial years in the professional ranks where injuries impacted his involvement with both Leinster and latterly Munster.
Now, though, he feels he has ‘got a good run of it’ and is primed to show what he can do in Ireland’s number 1 jersey, coming in as one of nine changes to the team that overcame South Africa 19-16.
Speaking earlier this week before the team announcement, Loughman admitted: “It would mean everything (to get capped). I have been pushing to get that for me and my family. I just think it would be incredible.
“Get that and keep pushing on to not make it a one-cap thing as well. I don’t want it to be one cap, I want it to be a stepping stone and to keep pushing on.”
It will be a hugely proud moment for Athy RFC and the town’s Ardscoil na Tríonóide, in particular, to see Loughman and Carbery playing together for Ireland. Eleven years ago they won a Leinster Junior Section A’ Shield with the school.
Both players moved on to line out for Blackrock, with Loughman winning the 2013 Leinster Schools Senior Cup alongside Garry Ringrose and Nick Timoney, and retaining the title the following year in a team that contained Carbery, Hugo Keenan, Caelan Doris and Timoney.
The eight years since then have seen a number of ups and downs, but the most significant move of his rugby life came when he, in his third year in the Leinster Academy, signed a three-month development deal with Munster.
Next month will mark the start of his sixth year with Munster, having gradually become a key member of the squad and committed himself to the Reds by signing a two-year contract extension last January.
Loughman, who has recently bought a house in Limerick with his partner Lucy, is putting down roots as he climbs the ladder with both Munster and Ireland and making the most of every new situation – just as he did during his well-travelled childhood.
His father David’s job in oil and gas engineering brought the family from Reno in Nevada to Kent, Jeremy spending the first four years of his life Stateside before England came calling at the age of 12.
When Loughman’s grandfather became ill, the family moved back to David’s native Athy. Jeremy has been here in Ireland ever since his teens, while the rest of the family have since dispersed again, most of them to California with a sister also in London.
“When you’re young it is very hard, a big shock. You get used to somewhere and you make friends, then you move again.
“After a couple of those it was a skill I developed where I could just drop myself in and just learn to be myself, just get on with people.
“I think I’m very open, easy to get on with, which helps. It’s a case of just trying to get stuck in the middle of it straight away. That’s something that I have done well in all those environments.”
His resilience has been one of the reasons his move to Munster has been a success, as it has taken a while to crack his way into a starting role. Nine starts last season and his elevation to the wider Ireland squad are evidence of his progress.
Coming under the wing of scrummaging specialist Graham Rowntree, who has gone from his forwards coach to head coach at Munster, and learning from the likes of Dave Kilcoyne and James Cronin at provincial level has certainly helped mould him into a strong operator at loosehead.
Rowntree has helped Loughman bring his game to the next level, ‘ticking off those one-percenters’, and his diligence in national camp, working closely with John Fogarty and Paul O’Connell in particular, has been rewarded with an Ireland debut.
Another important aspect of bringing the Kildare man to this point in his career has been his mental preparation for games, and for that he gives credit to high-performance coaches Caroline Currid, formerly of Munster, and Ireland’s Gary Keegan.
“I really believe in what they do, and it makes sense to me. I have seen the dividends of doing that work, which obviously reinforces doing it.
“That has brought my game to another level. Consistency would have been my weakest point before,” he admitted.
The country of his birth, the USA, did express their interest in Loughman turning out for the Eagles, but the player himself was determined to continue in the Irish Rugby system and fulfil his dream of playing in green.
“The US asked to see what kind of interest I had. Things were going well with Munster. The last two years I was getting more confident, felt that I was pushing myself into the team,” he added.
“I could see that if I could really push myself there (in Munster), then there was a chance here (with Ireland), so I would just stick to my guns.
“Living here, playing rugby here, being here pretty much my whole life, I was like, ‘I want to play with Ireland’. That was my goal.”