Leinster clash will feel like derby, says Munster old boy JJ Hanrahan

JJ Hanrahan can remember exactly where he was when he heard the news about the tragic death of Anthony Foley.

Driving back from London, the Northampton Saints fly-half was told of his former coach’s passing over the phone and, staggered by the news, he instantly pulled over.

He did not set off again for two hours.

Foley was a man who had a great impact on Hanrahan’s career, particularly during its early stages. It was he who brought the 16-year-old Kerryman into the Munster setup on a trial and it was from there that Hanrahan blossomed into a first-team player.

And while Hanrahan may have moved on to join Northampton in 2015, he does not forget his roots and the role Foley played in getting him to where he is now.

“It shook me, to be honest,” says Hanrahan as he recalls hearing about Foley’s death. “I remember when I got the phone call; I was driving back from London on the way home and I had to pull in the car for two hours.

“It shook me. Anthony brought me into Munster U20s when I was 16, to trial me and see how I was. So I knew him from that age and I worked with him all the way through until I came over here. It was definitely shocking news.”

Unsurprisingly the death of Foley has had an effect, as it has for so many connected with Munster. And as he reflects now on the passing of a man who was just 42, there is a clear message Hanrahan takes forward.

“I think it just shows how short everything can be and you have got to appreciate the people around you, appreciate what you have got in front of you,” he says.

“Without being too cliched, you have just got to enjoy it as it comes.”

And that is exactly what Hanrahan will be doing tomorrow as he, along with the rest of the Northampton squad, welcome Leinster to Franklin’s Gardens for their crucial Champions Cup clash.

As a man who came through the ranks at Munster, he knows exactly what to expect under the lights. Hanrahan has battled with Leinster several times, usually in the red of Munster, and they are experiences he can call upon even now.

Given his roots, it is essentially another derby for the 24-year-old, just a week after he got his first taste of the English midlands rivalry between Leicester Tigers and Northampton.

“It is almost like two derby games in a row for me! It is kind of a funny one,” says Hanrahan.

“Obviously, being a Northampton player now and playing against Tigers was a derby game, but for me growing up Leinster was always the derby game. It is an interesting one.

“My experiences of those games have been 50/50 really. They got the better of us for a couple of years, we turned them over once or twice at home and maybe once at the Aviva — which was a big win for us. But those games at home were as big as the Leicester Tigers v Northampton derby.”

Given the tight nature of Pool 4 after the first two rounds of fixtures, there is no denying the importance of tomorrow’s clash.

All four sides in the group have recorded one victory, making the upcoming double headers pivotal for those wanting to progress to the knockout stages.

Northampton naturally have aspirations to do just that, but Hanrahan has warned his teammates they must overcome a Leinster side who are getting back to the form that saw them win three European Cups in four years from 2009 to 2012.

“I think Leinster are on their way up again and I think Leo Cullen is doing an excellent job with them,” says Hanrahan.

“Stuart Lancaster has added a lot to them too, they have had a very good defence lately and obviously with some very good players in attack, they can rip you up.

“They have a world class back row and you have to be solid on your ruck ball to make sure you’re winning that, because they’ll turn over a lot of ball if you’re not secure there.

“Also going forward, they can stop you if you don’t get momentum. So it is very important for us to try and bring that into the game.

“It is a very big game for us. Leinster are a very, very good side. They will have a lot of boys coming back in from that international setup who will bring that wealth of talent and experience.

“Even outside of that they still have a lot of guys who have quality. So we are going to have to be on our game to be up to it.”

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