A LITTLE UNDER two years ago, Ronan Loughney came off the Ireland bench to make his Test debut against New Zealand.
“I came on early into the second half and was packing down against Tony Woodcock near our 5m line,” Loughney told TheScore.ie. ”In propping terms he is quite a legend so it was a tough experience; enjoyable though. I learned a lot from that tour. It was definitely another level up from what I was used to.”
He recalled, “I was not expecting to go but got the call after playing in the Baa Baas game. For me, it was brilliant. It was definitely the highlight of my career so far.”
The loose-head travelled to New Zealand in 2012 with Declan Fitzpatrick of Ulster. Both players, before the replacements bench was expanded to 23 to accommodate specialist props, were seen as back-up to Mike Ross. The Leinster man now has Marty Moore as an able deputy while Rodney Ah You [another dual scrummager] has leapfrogged Loughney, who was injured for much of the season, into the national set-up.
Focusing on the loose-head side of the Connacht scrum, the 29-year-old has forced himself into the starting line-up in recent weeks and sees Saturday’s match with Ospreys as a final audition before two Ireland squads are assembled.
“This season has not been great for me in terms of getting consistent rugby,” he conceded, “but I have had starts against Munster and Cardiff and feel like I’m back to where I should be. If any opportunity came up, like the Emerging Ireland tour to Romania [the Nations Cup] I would be delighted to travel.”
New Zealand influx
The Galway native found himself on the replacements bench, behind Ah You, at the start of the season. He won the No.3 jersey back in November on to fracture his eye socket against Edinburgh. That was five weeks on the sidelines but, as Loughney notes, he was still able to train [without contact] so it was ‘a good injury’.
Connacht’s drive for the automatic European spots has faltered but the departure of stalwarts such as Dan Parks and Gavin Duffy has brought home a rugby reality to the squad. No player is immune from getting released. Changes are rapidly afoot at the province but, the prop reveals, the old guard are eager for the Connacht spirit to live on.
“Gavin had the opportunity to speak to us before the Cardiff game and it was quite emotional. He spoke about his time at the club and how important his years here have been to him. He told us how important it is to play with pride for Connacht and to bring success to the area.”
The team backed up Duffy’s words with deeds for 50 minutes before falling to two, quick Cardiff tries. Saturday’s opposition are Ospreys; another team with nothing to play for but pride. Slots are up for grabs on the Welsh tour to South Africa and they should be keen to end a ‘hit and miss’ season on a winning note. Connacht are stretched with injuries but that is nothing different to them. The squad was been frayed from pre-season onward but they have, in purple patches, showed they can mix it with the league’s best.
Three experienced New Zealanders [Bundee Aki, Tom McCartney and Mils Muliaina] are arriving later in the year and Loughney believes their signatures are a sign of progress and recognition of the club’s giantkilling deeds of late. Pat Lam will a second pre-season to shape his squad’s playing style and Loughney is already looking forward to next season. First up, however, is an away match with a team capable of shock defeats [Zebre] and scoreboard-heaving victories.