The prospect of playing for the Barbarians against Tonga tomorrow night and in the same side as Donncha O’Callaghan is helping Munster’s James Cronin forget the injuries that have plagued and seriously damaged his career — with the prop now hopeful better times must surely lie ahead.
“I never thought I’d get to play with Donners again,” he enthuses. “I’d be actually very close to him so it’s great to link up with him once more. He’s been with UNICEF in Africa this week. In fairness what a great guy and I couldn’t talk highly enough about him as a professional and as a fella — he’s top of the pops.
“It’s a massive honour to play for the Barbarians and an opportunity to play with some of the game’s greatest. You grow up and see those great teams and tries from the 70s. Obviously, I wasn’t born in 1973 but I know all about Gareth Edwards’ famous try in Cardiff. The brand of rugby associated with the Barbarians shows the way rugby can be played, throwing it around and scoring those fantastic tries, like they did on Saturday last. It’s one of those things, if the opportunity arises, you want to grab it with both hands and I feel very fortunate to be invited.
“I was actually invited towards the end of last season but picked up an injury so now it has gone full circle that I am coming back from injury and getting the chance. I had this week off from Munster but I didn’t want to go gallivanting. I just want to get my body right. There are big games coming up with Munster and I want to put myself in the best possible position. Getting game time this week is all part of the recovery process.
“The latest injury is the knee, a cartilage that I had complications with. You name it, I’ve had the bad luck with the injuries but there’s a more positive outlook now, back on the pitch and looking forward to Friday night.”
Cronin is realistic about the departure of Munster coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber and the impending arrival of Johann van Graan.
“Look back 18 months, we were probably struggling and they have had a massive role in turning things around. We are in a good position in Europe and second in our conference in the PRO14 so they have had a massively positively influence. They are going to be sorely missed.
“I’ve chatted to a few South African lads here with the Barbarians and everybody speaks very highly of Johann van Graan. We want to put trophies in the cabinet, it’s a big year, it’s going to be a big six to eight weeks.”
Meanwhile, BaaBaas coach Robbie Deans is conscious how fixtures such as tomorrow’s can promote and develop the game worldwide.
Deans enjoyed a great career with Canterbury from 1979 to 1990 when he also played five times for New Zealand. As a coach, he gained worldwide recognition when taking over the top job with Australia from 2008 to 2013. And it was in 2011 that Deans and the Wallabies experienced at first hand just how ferocious a combination the Munster rugby team and the Irish weather can be.
“I don’t think I have seen playing conditions as bad before or since,” he says. “I have been lucky enough to experience a number of pretty horrific conditions in a number of different countries but without a word of a lie, that would be the worst. But it was a great experience and a big part of the motivation for taking on those games was to expose a group of players to those occasions and how to learn from them, what it means for local players to have a crack at international players.”
Munster were comfortable winners that dreadful night. Deans enjoyed a more favourable result when coaching the Barbarians to a 22-21 win over Ireland at Thomond Park in 2015 and recalled how “on entering the ground, a lady on the gate welcomed me back and reminded me that you lost here the last time. But to her credit, on the point of departure, she acknowledged that we had won that night.”
Deans, currently coaches Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan, and is positive about the BaaBaas’ future. He believes most players still regard it as a great honour to don the famous Barbarians shirt. “It offers them an opportunity to emerge in an international context where it accelerates their exposure and gives them an opportunity to put up their hands up and show what they can do.”
The BaaBaas’ reputation for open, attractive rugby will be maintained if Deans has anything to do with it and he stresses the quality of their third try against New Zealand at Twickenham last Saturday to demonstrate the point.
“We were running the ball across our dead ball line — against the All Blacks,” he said with a laugh.
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