Nobody could have been put out more than Sean Cronin when Rory Best’s absence for last week’s meeting with Italy at the Stadio Olimpico was confirmed.
Cronin has played 25 times for Ireland in the Six Nations and every one of those caps have been earned off the bench. Now, here he was back in Ireland rehabbing a hamstring injury when the chance of a first start in the tournament finally presented itself.
Murphy’s law and all that.
Instead, it was Niall Scannell who profited from the skipper’s dicky tummy and the Munster hooker made the most of his opportunity — helped by a dominant Irish performance — with an impressive all-round debut performance.
“It was typical, I suppose, that Rory goes down,” said Cronin through a wry smile as he engaged in Vodafone promotional duties yesterday. “I think he had 50 Six Nations (games) on the bounce or something ridiculous.” It was actually 51.
“So I was sitting at home going, ‘Yeah that’s the way it always goes, isn’t it?’ (Scannell) did really well, had a real strong first-half, the lineout went well, the scrum was dominant again after the Scottish game.”
It looks as though Cronin will have to wait until the summer tour to Japan to add to his Test caps. The injury is two weeks ahead of schedule and he’s hoping to start running again next week but Leinster’s European quarter-final on April 1 is an ambitious enough aim for now.
Still, it could be worse.
There is always someone with a more distant return date. Cronin only has to look to his Leinster and Ireland colleague Jordi Murphy who hasn’t been seen on a rugby field since doing his anterior cruciate ligament against New Zealand in Chicago.
Yet even he has cause for cheer. An initial recovery time of up to nine months was quickly retracted to six and now the flanker is hoping to shave another few weeks off that. All going well — and there have been no setbacks yet — and he will be back for Leinster long before season’s end.
Both Cronin and Murphy have had to sit out a succession of big games as it is — and suffer the realisation that any outside shot at making the Lions touring party this summer was all but gone — but there is some consolation to be found in injury absences.
For Murphy, it is the chance to work on pre-existing shoulder and groin issues, as well as work for a third-level business degree that is in its final year. For Cronin, it has been the mixed blessing of spending more time with his newly-born twins Cillian and Finn.
“I was kinda banking on getting into Carton House for three months, to be honest,” he joked. “It has been great. We were in (hospital) over Christmas. They’re home now and they’re pretty tough work. Ireland isn’t ready for them, I don’t think.”
All he can do for now in terms of rugby is sit and watch and he liked what he saw in Rome after the disappointing opening loss to the Scots in Edinburgh.
“I would say they were just drilling the fast start all week. They came firing out of the blocks in Rome. That was real pleasing to see, just the way they kept going for 80 minutes, that was another aspect. Sometimes you can take the foot off the pedal a small bit.
“But they kept going for 80 minutes and you don’t know how crucial those scores can be towards the end of the competition. You saw in 2014 when we beat Italy quite well at home, that ended up being a big telling thing with the points difference so you never know.”
The margin between Ireland and Italy was 39 points that year and Ireland followed that up with a game against France, just as they do this time around, even if the French are in a more positive frame of mind now than was the case three years ago.
Cronin believes Ireland will be, too. “A massive turning point there would have been when we won the championship in Paris (in 2014). I can remember Johnny (Sexton) and the leaders of the group just saying, ‘What a way to win it, to go there and win in Paris’.”
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