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'Bundee’s eyes lit up when I tried to take him on the outside'

Having missed out on November, the in-form Sean Cronin is taking satisfaction in vital contributions no matter what stage of the match.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

SEAN CRONIN CRANES that thick, robust neck to peer through bodies and make sure he can see who we’re pointing to.

In the other corner of the Carton House room is an international centre who is capable of rapid changes of pace and bursts of acceleration. But face to face with Cronin in a New Year’s Day inter-pro at the RDS, he just wasn’t quick or powerful enough to close out a most un-front-row-like burst.

“Yeah, Bundee’s eyes lit up a small bit when I tried to take him on the outside,” laughs the hooker.

cronin

“He had a word with me after the match: ‘Don’t ever do that to me again!’”

It’s one little moment in what has been a season of sensational form for Cronin, yet he rates the start of his own campaign as sluggish. And the trees pulled up over the winter months are still only enough to gain a spot among the replacements so far in this Six Nations.

Still, better in than out. Cronin tasted enough time as an outsider during November when Rob Herring and James Tracy were called to deputise for Rory Best ahead of him.

“They were pretty honest,” recounts Cronin of how his coaching ticket broke the news.

“They said, ‘Look, we just didn’t think you hit the ground running, you haven’t been playing too well whereas other guys were playing really well’. It was a good motivator for me to get out there.”

I was disappointed, but then you have got to be honest with yourself. You could have went away and said ‘Ah, what about my experience?’ But at the end of the day it is about performance and guys were performing better than me.”

With only the captain keeping him out of Ireland’s number 2 jersey again, Cronin jokes about nudging Best towards retirement and makes some satirical suggestions for how the IRFU PR team might follow Eddie Jones’ lead in rebranding replacements as ‘finishers’ — or, at the very least, increase the font size for the names next to numbers 16 through 23.

So he’s certainly coping well with that delicate predicament of balancing an ambition to be the best in his position on the island, while simultaneously being the best team-mate and role-player he can be. The greater good comes into full view with experience, says the 31-year-old.

“I suppose when you’re younger, you can’t really get your head around that. You maybe (say): ’I want to be the starter!’ And that’s all you have in your head.

Rory Best encourages Sean Cronin as he comes on as a replacement Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Then you build up the experience of being involved in squads and being involved in really close games when you’re called for the last 15, 20 minutes. You maybe turn your focus, (consider) that they’re putting their cards on you to come on and do well and provide the pressure moments that are going to contribute to the squad going well.

“The quicker that you can get your head around that and buy into that philosophy and be the squad and team player, then the happier that you’ll be in yourself.”

There can be little doubt that the Limerick man has contributed vital moments to the opening two wins in this Championship so far. Though there were many heart-stopping moments in the drive to victory in Paris, the image of a back-pedalling Cronin taking a slow looping pass stands out as a moment when hope seemed lost. Lost, until the hooker dipped his head and powered through contact to make an unlikely gainline.

Ireland’s Sean Cronin Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

He is ready to perform whenever called upon.

“It’s something the coaches drive down as well onto players and then there’s nothing more rewarding than coming on with 10 or 15 minutes to go against France and you’ve learned your roles, you do everything right, you clean out the last ruck, back to Johnny…

“So, it has its negatives and positives, you’ve just got to find the positives in it.”

Cronin looks set to take up a ‘finisher’ berth this Saturday again having been released to Leinster for the Pro14 win over Scarlets. That’s another scenario when it’s easy for him to take positives away. Playing is never a bad thing, so having not started a match since his magnificent display in Montpellier in January, he returns to international camp this week feeling all the sharper for his 56-minute hit-out against the champions.

“They had a three-day camp while I went back and got rugby so it was probably better for me to go back and get the game-time. It stands to me a bit better and it wasn’t too hard for me to catch up on what I missed.

“(Schmidt) just told me to go back and get some game-time under my belt. I think I know what he’s looking from me already so I’m just going to go back, try get the basics right.”

He’s already mastered the explosive flourishes.

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Sean Farrell

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