Jerry Flannery admits the large Munster contingent in Ireland’s line-up has eased his preparations for the RBS 6 Nations opener against Italy.
Flannery is one of eight Munster men who will run out at Lansdowne Road on Saturday and the 27-year-old hooker has been comforted by his provincial team-mates’ presence ahead of his full Test debut.
“Having so many Munster players in the squad makes the transition to international rugby much easier,” he said.
“Playing with your mates at any level makes it a lot easier. I’m starting to know the other lads a bit better but it’s good to see so many faces I know.”
Flannery has played second fiddle to Frankie Sheahan at Munster, but with his rival recovering from a serious neck injury he has been given the chance to impress Ireland boss Eddie O’Sullivan.
His outstanding form helped Munster power into the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and now the Shannon front row is reaping the rewards of his perseverance.
“Everything has happened very quickly for me. In the back of my mind I always knew that if I could break into the Munster side and perform well I’d be in the running for international selection,” he said.
“I didn’t really let that enter my mind too much but I knew that if I kept my head down I’d be involved.
“Over the last few years, whenever I talked to selectors about why I wasn’t being selected at Munster it was always the same response – we know you’re playing well but Frankie Sheahan has the experience.
“It was a catch 22 situation. How do I get the experience if Frankie is getting picked? Experience is so important.”
Munster’s stunning 31-9 demolition of Sale in the last round of Heineken Cup pool matches sealed Flannery’s elevation to Ireland’s Test side at the expense of Rory Best and Shane Byrne.
“There was a lot of hype about Sale’s pack before the game, people were saying they would take us apart,” said Flannery.
“But we stayed focused on what we could do and ignored the hype. We just looked at them as other players and concentrated for the whole 80 minutes.”
Flannery won his only cap as a second-half substitute against Romania in the autumn series but knows Six Nations rugby represents a significant step up.
“I only played for 16 minutes against Romania. It takes time to find your feet when you come into a game like that,” he said.
“Maybe if I’d had a bit longer I would have settled into it a bit more. The game was quick but there wasn’t that much difference to a top Heineken Cup match. Italy will be different.”