IT’S BEEN A whirlwind breakthrough season for James Cronin.
From making his first Munster start in September’s Pro12 win over Edinburgh, to signing a two-year contract extension in January, then appearing off the bench against Toulon last weekend in what he admits was “the biggest game of my life”.
Along the way there has been one consistent factor; the 23-year-old’s aggressive excellence.
A product of the club game with Cork’s Dolphin RFC, Cronin was named Munster’s academy player of the year for the 2012/13 campaign, when he also made two substitute appearances for the province in the Pro12.
His subsequent impact at Munster may have surprised some, but not Cronin himself. He is an ambitious young player, who has a constant focus on improving his loosehead skills. Coming into the tail-end of an excellent season, his intentions for progress are not limited to his province.
I’m happy. Like I said earlier on in the season, I’m taking it one game at a time. I obviously have aspirations to play for Ireland, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing to put my hand up.
“Joe Schmidt has got a lot of looseheads there at the moment, so I’m just playing my own game. If he wants to call me up, I’ll have no problem with that either! ”
With a 6ft, 113kg frame, Cronin’s ball carrying has been strong this season, while his rucking technique and aggression in defence have stood out too. In terms of scrummaging, he has passed several tough tests, including a start against Perpignan in Europe.
His most recent step up the ladder of professional rugby was a substitute appearance against Toulon in the Heineken Cup semi-final, although his 16-minute cameo ended in disappointment.
“I came on and I tried to make an impact. I was happy enough [with his contributions], but obviously it was heartbreaking for us. It was the biggest game of my life and to lose it like that, when we had opportunities.
It’s harsh and sport is cruel, but I think this group of players will learn from it. I know we lost last year as well in the semi-finals and we’re hurting, but we’ve got to go after the Rabo now.”
Attention switches back to that competition ahead of Saturday evening’s clash away to Edinburgh, where Munster come up against “a robust, physical pack” and “a world-class nine in [Greig] Laidlaw.”
Having already tasted defeat against Alan Solomons’ side earlier in this campaign, Cronin says he and his teammates will not be underestimating the challenge.
“No, we learned at the start of the season to give Edinburgh the respect they deserve. We went over there and got beaten in the first round of the Heineken. They’re not a bad side and we know that.
“We’ll give them the credit they deserve and go over there all guns blazing. We’re after slipping to third in the league and we’d love nothing more than a home semi-final for our fans.”
Audio courtesy of the Big Red Bench on Cork’s Red FM.