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'My biggest issue is that I probably put too much pressure on myself as an individual'

JJ Hanrahan is having a strong season for Munster as the influence of Stephen Larkham shines through.

“AT THE MOMENT, I’m probably the only one left. That’s one aspect to it!”

JJ Hanrahan’s answer when he’s asked why he thinks this season is going so well for him comes with a self-deprecating smile.

Of course, Joey Carbery’s ankle injury has opened the door to Munster’s number 10 shirt, while Tyler Bleyendaal is also sidelined, but Hanrahan has grasped his chance in impressive fashion.

jj-hanrahan-makes-a-break Hanrahan has been in strong form this season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

At the age of 27, it feels like the Kerryman is beginning to fully realise the rich promise he has always possessed. Injuries along the way haven’t helped, while he spent two seasons away at Northampton, but the Munster man is in his best streak of form for some time.

“There are so many aspects to it,” says Hanrahan. “It’s not just a quick fix. There are building blocks all through last season into this season, things I’ve put in place from mental strategies and also execution of training on the field and stuff like that. Slowly but surely it has all started to fall into place.

“I suppose I don’t really get too caught up in it because, as Alby Mathewson says, ‘You’re only as good as your next game, not your last game.’ You’ve got to perform every week, so that’s the challenge.”

Hanrahan’s latest impressive performance came in Munster’s home draw against Racing 92 at Thomond Park two weekends ago, when he nailed a touchline conversion to level the game, having teed up Andrew Conway’s try with a beautiful pass.

However, Hanrahan came away from that game dejected after his late drop-goal attempt slipped wide.

“I was massively disappointed,” says Hanrahan of the miss. “You can’t tiptoe around it. Of course you’re disappointed if you get that opportunity as a number 10, that’s what you pride yourself on.

“As a younger child growing up you always want those winning opportunities. But the thing about rugby and the thing about life in general is that if one opportunity is going to happen for you for the rest of your life then you are going to fail pretty quickly.

“You have got to be able to get back on the horse. You get back to training, go through your processes and you start repping it again. The next time an opportunity comes you don’t shy away from it and you go for it again.”

jj-hanrahan-reacts-to-missing-his-drop-kick-on-goal Hanrahan dejected after his drop-goal slipped wide. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ronan O’Gara, a master of the drop-goal, suggested on Off the Ball that Hanrahan may have been better off taking his shot from slightly further out than he did and though the Currow man didn’t hear those comments, he does say it might have helped.

“If you are further back, you might commit to the kick further,” explains Hanrahan. “You can fall into a false sense of security when you’re so close and [think you can] tip it over and that’s probably the biggest mistake you can make.

“You have to commit to every kick and I probably didn’t do that.”

Hanrahan’s next big challenge is leading Munster at out-half for Saturday’s visit of reigning European champions Saracens to Thomond Park in what will be his sixth start of the campaign.

There is no denying that Hanrahan looks revitalised this season, particularly in attack under new senior coach Stephen Larkham, the former Wallabies out-half and a legend of the game from his playing days.

“Immensely,” says Hanrahan when asked if he’s enjoying working with Larkham. “I think it’s probably the first coach who has played at 10 that I’ve worked alongside. He knows exactly what you’re feeling at each time, what’s going through your head each time.

“He really encourages other players to take over certain aspects and gives 10s a bit more freedom. So that’s good for me and enjoyable from that aspect.

“Some of the knowledge that he has brought in in terms of little details, in terms of our play, and just in general structure it has been very good.”

How exactly has Larkham encouraged other players to take over certain aspects?

“I don’t have a diagram to describe this but your vision is always down the field and you’re not spending as much time organising,” outlines Hanrahan.

stephen-larkham Larkham is having a positive influence on Hanrahan. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Rory [Scannell] and Chris [Farrell] do an awful lot of organising. Our centres and our wings, everyone just organising and getting people in position.

“As a 10, you’re then just trying to execute and just pick the right options.”

So far, Larkham’s influence appears to be bringing the best out of Hanrahan and Munster fans are certainly enjoying watching him on a run of the kind of consistent form he hasn’t always been able to show for the province.

Indeed, the former Rockwell College man departed in 2015 for two seasons with Northampton in the Premiership, a time which proved to be injury-stunted but valuable in the long-term.

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“I suppose if you look at it, I went through one year a complete wreck of injuries. I was fit for 10 games, I had three surgeries in one year and when you’re away from home in Northampton, you learn a bit about yourself.

“All through my career, I had it plain-sailing in terms of when I was younger I was fit and available for games and then you just develop a bit of mental strength and a bit of bottle when you are going through testing times.”

Visibly relaxed as he chats to the media at Munster’s high performance centre, Hanrahan certainly comes across as a man entirely at ease in a mental sense. 

The area of mental skills is one Hanrahan has paid attention to throughout his career and though he isn’t keen to reveal everyone he has spoken too, he mentions the now ex-Munster scrum-half Alby Mathewson again, saying the Kiwi had “a huge influence” on the entire squad during his 15 months with the province.

jj-hanrahan Hanrahan is set for another start against Saracens. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I’ve worked with a few people before, just chatting to different people. I’d rather… I know he’d want me to keep it quiet.

“Alby was very good as well. He mentioned about focus and control and controlling the controllables. And that if you think too far down the line, it’s a waste of time – you are wasting energy on things you can’t control.”

In that sense, Hanrahan pays short thrift to a query on whether he hopes new Ireland boss Andy Farrell might be impressed if he can deliver against Saracens this weekend.

“When you were younger you’d get caught up looking too far into the future and that’s just a waste of time,” says Hanrahan.

Indeed, Hanrahan feels he is starting to shake other habits of his younger years. Many on the outside burdened him with expectations of being ‘the next ROG’ when he was first coming through.

The Kerryman never really heeded that hype, but says he is beginning to accept that perfect isn’t possible.

“I think my biggest problem is my internal expectation,” says Hanrahan. “What people think about me doesn’t actually bother me, to be honest. My biggest issue is that I probably put too much pressure on myself as an individual.

“And that was never from outside, that was me. You always want everything to be perfect. That’s not really possible and you have got to realise that it’s not a perfect game and there are ups and downs and there are mistakes.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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