Cronin eager for ‘massive opportunity’ as key ball-carrier against the Boks

SEAN CRONIN HAS had to become used to the role of impact replacement for Ireland over the course of his career, but injury to Rory Best means the Leinster man gets his first-team chance this weekend.

Despite having last started an international game in Ireland’s uncapped clash with Fiji in Thomond Park back in 2012, Cronin comes into tomorrow evening’s meeting with South Africa confident in his ability to contribute.

“It is a small bit different,” says the Limerick native, who has started just six times over the course of 35 caps so far for Ireland, “it’s a huge challenge for me. I’m used to coming off the bench, and hopefully I can use the experience I’ve gained by playing behind someone like Rory to good effect.

“I can look at some of the things he’s done over the years and try to bring that into my game over the weekend.”

Not that Joe Schmidt is throwing a rookie into the mix here; Cronin has been pushing Best hard for some time now. Indeed, the fact that Cronin’s ball-carrying has been added to the side is a major plus, particularly with Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy missing.

Chief among those “fantastic” forward carriers is Cronin himself. When Brian O’Driscoll is lauding your choices of running line, you know you’re doing something right. The fact that the hooker has the acceleration of an outside back helps him through contact too.

It is around the set-piece that a front row is fundamentally relied upon, however, meaning that a groin injury to starting tighthead Mike Ross in recent weeks has been unhelpful to Ireland’s plans to build cohesion in that area.

However, Cronin points out that the fact that himself, Jack McGrath and Ross are all Leinster players has negated some of that disruption.

Cronin at Ireland training this week in Carton House. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He [Ross] has been able to do the scrummaging work. It was a bit of chop and change last week but ever since we came back in at the weekend everyone’s been working in their core groups, scrummaging and line-outs, so we’ve had plenty of time.

“And me, Jack and Mike play together in our club rugby, which is great. So at least it’s not too much of new surroundings there, we’re used to each other and that’s a major positive.”

Cronin has had a few wobbles with his line-out throwing of late, as do all hookers from time to time. However, when it is put to the former Connacht man that he is coming up against one of the sharpest line-out minds in the world in Victor Matfield, Cronin succinctly underlines Ireland’s strength in that sector of the game.

The Ireland hooker is firm and fair in his answers at Carton House, and there exudes from him the positivity that Schmidt demands in his group. There may be nagging doubts over the throwing, Ireland’s set-piece and other aspects outside camp, but Cronin is wholly focused on taking his starting chance.

“I just see it as a massive opportunity, they are a class outfit. They have two of the best hookers in the world in Bismarck du Plessis and Adriaan Strauss as well, so whichever one of them was going to start it was going be a huge challenge for me.

“I see it as an opportunity to pit myself against one of the best players in the world, and hopefully I can give a good account of myself.”

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