Cronin reaping rewards from western exposure

IN another time, Sean Cronin’s commitment to Connacht rugby might have been seen as a bad career move. But, his selection for Ireland’s autumn Test with Samoa at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday tells a different story.

Cronin has plenty of ammunition stored to use against those who attempt to launch missiles at his team. Yes, he’s from Limerick, yes, he’s ultimately a Munster man, as he has pointed out in the past, but he’s proud to be associated with Connacht and of what has been achieved there over the last couple of seasons.

Instantly, he could point to how an under-strength Connacht produced a stirring triumph over the touring Samoans on Tuesday, but he highlights how the team has begun to win respect in the Magners League as well as Europe, where their last campaign yielded a place in the Amlin Cup semi-finals.

Connacht are currently 10th in the Magners League but, with a respectable 13 points from seven games, they’re amongst a cluster of clubs in an intense battle for a position behind leaders Munster. They are, for instance, just one win away from fifth and, having lost the opening Amlin clash to Cavalieri, they are also back on European track after beating French Super 14 side Bayonne.

For those who say the top players have to be playing Heineken Cup, Cronin had this reply: “You know, that’s probably a comment that will be thrown out every so often. But, the way I look at it, is we played Bayonne and we beat them. They were only four points behind Racing Metro, who Leinster played. Coming out on top and actually playing well is the important thing.”

He furthers his argument in praise of Connacht by pointing out he is not a lone voice in the Ireland camp, reminding us “Gav (Gavin Duffy) and John (Muldoon) were on the Irish tour in the summer and John was unlucky to break his arm against New Zealand.

“It’s great we’ve upped the representation and Brett Wilkinson has been involved as well. It’s important because we can always step back into the Connacht fold and try to bring stuff back into the province. It kind of gives the whole place a lift.”

Obviously, a lot of this week’s prep work has been taken up with line outs and he is conscious it is a crucial area for him.

“There are a lot of factors that influence the lineout and the hooker seems to always be fed to the lions so to speak. There were many parts of the lineout which looked to have broken down at the weekend. “We’re just trying to get that right and win first-phase ball which is something Ireland have always been very strong at. I’d say other teams would look at Ireland as being one of the best first-phase attackers in world rugby so it’s vitally important we get that right at the weekend.”

Cronin probably has a better chance than Rory Best of helping Ireland achieve that, given the presence of the towering 6 foot 10 inch Leinster second row Devin Toner. “Hard to miss,” he mused, “funny enough, myself and Dev played (Irish) Schools, 19’s and 21’s together, so I’ve been around him a long time.

“He’s been doing (organising) the Leinster lineout and will now be doing that for Ireland; it has been going very well (for Leinster) any time he stepped in there. He just stamps his authority, he knows what he wants and both he and Gert (Smal) have been working together, so I’ve got a lot of confidence for the weekend.”

Saturday will, he hopes, provide enough proof for Irish coach Declan Kidney that he has progressed, and he is excited at the prospect of playing alongside high quality players.

He is aware that his line out throwing will be scrutinised like never before, but believes strongly that teamwork will help him through the challenge. Toner may be calling the shots from the lineout, but Cronin expects to have to throw long as well as short.

“The calls will be decided on the day and it’s up to us to make them work.”

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