Seán Cronin’s 52nd-minute try against Scarlets in last Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 grand final didn’t win the game, but it went a long way toward convincing the Welsh side they were going to lose.
Coming off the back of an inch-perfect Johnny Sexton kick to touch, Leinster mauled their way to the line and Cronin tore off the back of the pack to race home and put 15 points between the sides.
As he touched down, Sexton turned to the stands and let roar a primal celebration last seen after his own try in the Champions Cup semi-final win over the same opponents. When the outhalf is leaping into the air, punching it with his fist, you know it’s something special, and Saturday was no different.
For the 32-year-old hooker, it was a moment to savour, in a season of never-ending highlights.
It was a third try in a Champions Cup competition in which he played all nine games – starting eight. Another try arrived in the Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign, his try against Scotland earning Ireland the title with a week to spare.
However, while it sounds glorious as summer arrives, it’s easy to forget he didn’t start the first European game and was dropped from the Ireland squad entirely for last year’s November series.
James Tracy and Rob Herring were brought in to provide competition for Rory Best, leaving Cronin — who had 56 caps at that point — watching from the fringes.
“That’s all I did. I saw what Leo [Cullen] and Stuart [Lancaster] wanted from me at Leinster, all the coaching staff, to get up to speed, and they’ve had a bit of faith in me. That’s all you can do: Try and work your socks off if you’re left out of a squad. Don’t sulk.
"You work as hard as you can and believe in yourself.”
All ages enjoyed the celebrations of the last few days, but Cronin knows they’ll be brought quickly back to earth when the Ireland contingent meet up tomorrow. There has been little time to reflect on their successes this season, given how quickly another challenge is put in their way, but Cronin wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Joe has his own way of doing stuff, as well, so we’ll have to get up to speed with that and put this to bed pretty quick. I’m looking forward to the three great cities we’re going to. I think it’s the 70s since we’ve had a win there, so it’s going to be a huge tour.”
Ciarán Fitzgerald and Ollie Campbell were playing when Ireland last won in Australia, in 1979, but under Schmidt, Ireland have taken a hammer to conventions.
There was a first win in South Africa in 2016, and a first win over New Zealand a few months later. This year a third ever Grand Slam was achieved, and in Twickenham, no less.
It’s no wonder Cronin sees Tests in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney as a challenge rather than a chore.
“A lot of the lads will come in thirsty for more success as well off the back of the Grand Slam and it will be a good mix with lads from outside Leinster too, but we’re going to come in and try and add value, like we always do, and add a bit of success there.”
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