James Cronin was the lucky recipient of a trip to Spain yesterday after an injury to Munster team-mate Dave Kilcoyne ruled him out of Ireland’s Six Nations warm-weather training camp.
Joe Schmidt’s 36-man squad departed unannounced from Dublin for Valencia yesterday for a five-day camp at the five-star Oliva Nova Beach and Golf Resort ahead of their February 3 championship opener in Paris against France.
Why the Irish management felt the need to keep their plan a secret is anybody’s guess, warm weather training is not a new idea and title rivals England have been visiting Portugal’s Algarve each January for several years.
Regardless, in-form prop Kilcoyne was not on the plane to southern Spain having suffered a knee injury in the 17th minute of Munster’s 48-3 Champions Cup victory over Castres at Thomond Park on Sunday.
He was replaced at loosehead by Cronin, whose impressive and energetic 63-minute performance completed the Corkman’s comeback from a series of calf issues and earned the 27-year-old an Ireland squad call-up and the chance to add to his three Test caps, though he will have to get past Leinster duo Cian Healy and Jack McGrath first.
Cronin’s last international appearance came off the bench for Ireland against France in February 2016, bringing his total Test minutes to 24, all as a replacement, following a 2014 debut on the summer tour to Argentina.
His performance against Castres on Sunday earned the appreciation of Munster head coach Johann van Graan, who said of Cronin: “I am very happy with his performance.
“Obviously when you put out a prop in the first half in a set-piece battle you kind of lose a bit, but he just went flat out and there’s an instance in the second-half when Ian Keatley put a ball into the left-hand corner. If you see it again from the top view, James came from outside the ball, ran 80 metres and actually cut off a quick throw five yards from their line.
“I just told him in there ‘to me as a coach it’s not always the things that people see but the unseen stuff’. For a prop to run 80 metres in those conditions at that time of the game, I’m very happy with that.”
Kilcoyne, meanwhile, has remained in Munster to have his injury assessed, with van Graan saying on Sunday night: “He’s in a bit of pain, a lot of ice around the knee. Think it will be a bit of time before we know exactly what’s wrong.
“If he stays down it might be serious but I don’t want to speculate at this stage. He’s important to our squad and to Ireland so I hope he recovers really quickly.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved