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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 21 August, 2019
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Connacht's Ronaldson thinks All-Ireland League has plenty more to offer

The outhalf joined the western province from Lansdowne during the summer and is happy with his progress so far.

Ronaldson is enjoying the professional rugby lifestyle.
Ronaldson is enjoying the professional rugby lifestyle.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

THE ULSTER BANK League kicks off this Saturday, and there will be one Connacht player with more than a passing interest in the results.

Craig Ronaldson moved out west from the reigning All-Ireland club champions Lansdowne during the summer, having excelled at outhalf for Mike Ruddock’s men last season. The 23-year-old scored a phenomenal 206 points in 16 games and was named Player of the Year in Division 1A.

As his former teammates prepare for Saturday afternoon’s league opener against the newly-promoted UCD, Ronaldson is hoping to make his fourth professional appearance in Connacht’s clash with the in-form Ospreys at the Sportsground. He believes that the quality of Ireland’s domestic league is growing all the time and that his example will be followed in the near future.

It is certainly encouraging to see the likes of Ronaldson and Darragh Fanning at Leinster breaking into the professional game based on their exploits in the Ulster Bank League, but the Connacht man feels that many amateur players don’t even realize how advanced a level they are playing at every weekend.

“There are a lot of good players in the AIL, I think anyway. It’s a good breeding ground and in the last two years, I thought the standard was going up. There are a lot of tough games. I think it’s good to see that if you can perform well in the league, do well for your team and help them out, there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”

imageRonaldson and his Lansdowne teammates celebrate last season’s success. ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Lansdowne have built an impressive squad in recent seasons and under coaches Ruddock and Emmett Farrell, their approach to training, diet and recovery has been increasingly professional. The 18-point margin by which they won last year’s title, the 10 try-scoring bonus points and an overall points difference 0f +232 showed the rewards. Ronaldson says the players themselves are behind much of the success.

“I think it started once we moved into our new club house, with the new pitch. We had a fantastic gym there too. The facilities are top rate, so it rubbed off on us as players. When Mike came in it probably stepped up another notch as well.

“With Emmet there as well, those two lads were really good. It was player driven at the same time, I suppose. We really wanted to achieve something, so it was a combination of things.”

Ronaldson has gained international exposure with the Ireland Club International side in the last two years, playing alongside the likes of Fanning and Munster’s Gerry Hurley and Barry O’Mahony. Again, Ronaldson feels that his involvement in that side made him better prepared for professional rugby.

“Two years ago it was my first time representing my country. So it was a big thing and definitely the build-up to it and just going away with the team helped. We played away in England the first year and away in Scotland last year. Just being in that environment and with another step up in pace and physicality helped.”

After a pre-season which was a bit of a “shock to the system”, Ronaldson feels at home in the Connacht squad already and says he is enjoying the the pro rugby lifestyle. He has made substitute appearances in all three of the province’s Pro12 fixtures so far and has shown glimpses of the ability that made him such a star for Lansdowne.

imageRonaldson has adapted to the demanding training schedule. ©INPHO/James Crombie

Connacht’s own form has been disappointing, with second half collapses against the Blues and Ulster in the last two weeks proving particularly frustrating. Ronaldson says the entire squad is focused on remedying that problem against the Ospreys on Saturday.

“It’s a big game for us. The last few weeks have been a bit disappointing, so hopefully we can get a win on the board. We’ve been in good positions come half time in those last two games, so we’re just looking to push on in the second half and put in an 80-minute performance.”

Lining up at outhalf for the Ospreys is likely to be Welsh international Dan Biggar, and Ronaldson would relish the chance to directly oppose him in the pitch. It is a sign of the former Kilkenny College captain’s ambition that he wants to face the toughest tests possible.

“Biggar is someone I’ve looked at over the years as being a very good player. He’s obviously done well for Wales and things like that. He’s class, and they’re the kind of players you love measuring yourself against. So hopefully I’ll be involved at some stage.”

If he is to be sprung from the bench in Galway on Saturday evening, a win for Lansdowne earlier in the day would be a mental boost. It is to be hoped that Ronaldson’s graduation from the Ulster Bank League into the professional game will be repeated soon.

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Murray Kinsella

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