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Dublin: 12°C Sunday 20 September 2020

'People never gave me a hope': Ireland legend Stringer on succeeding against the odds

The ex-Munster man would also like to see John Cooney given a start at scrum-half in this year’s Guinness Six Nations.

Peter Stringer appearing on The Line-Out last Thursday.
Peter Stringer appearing on The Line-Out last Thursday.

DURING HIS FORMATIVE years in rugby, many people saw Peter Stringer’s height as a considerable disadvantage.

The diminutive scrum-half would go on to prove all those doubters wrong. 

Stringer, who stands at 1.71 metres tall, enjoyed a stellar career for both Ireland and Munster — famously winning a Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam — before finishing out his career in England and announcing his retirement in 2018. 

Cork Con were his first club growing up, and Ronan O’Gara was a childhood team-mate. Due to Peter’s slight stature, however, his mother and father often received criticism for allowing him to take part in a sport known for its physicality.  

“I started when I was five or six and my parents would always go to watch me play,” Stringer told hosts Muireann O’Connell and Greg O’Shea on last week’s episode of The Line-Out on Virgin Media One. “They used to get a lot of grief on the sideline from other parents for putting me out there.

“I never saw it as a problem. I loved the challenge, when you first learn how to tackle and you bring down the bigger guys. People respect you for that.”

At one point, it was even suggested that he should undergo growth hormone treatment in an effort to make him taller. 

“When I was 10 or 11, my mum came to me and said her cousin’s son had some treatment to get bigger,” he said. “I was quite taken aback. She told me there was a growth hormone treatment that the doctors recommended.

So I went to the doctors and they said ‘look, you’re very much undeveloped for your age. You’re so small and this is an opportunity for you’.”

It had been successful for a family member, but Stringer felt his size was a key part of his character so he declined the offer — a decision that turned out to be the right one. 

“I didn’t want to have it done as I was happy with who I was, I was playing every weekend and being picked in the team,” he added.

“My parents were just looking after me and that’s why they suggested it, but they didn’t force me. I could have been completely different and bigger, but I might never have made it.

“I always used my height as an advantage because people never gave me a hope in terms of tackling guys when I was young. That was just a bigger challenge for me, I wanted to prove people wrong.”

peter-stringer Stringer playing for Ireland in 2009. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland’s scrum-half position has been a topic of much debate this year. Stringer’s former team-mate Conor Murray has undoubtedly proven himself as a world-class player over several years but his form has dipped in recent times.

With John Cooney excelling for Ulster this season, some fans and pundits have called for head coach Andy Farrell to give the Dubliner an opportunity to impress. 

Having worn the No.9 shirt with distinction for so long, Stringer believes handing Cooney a start in one of the remaining three Guinness Six Nations matches would be beneficial for both players. 

“It’s great to have competition for places,” he said before the win over Wales. “That’s what you need to be a successful team, and there has been lots of chat.

“We’ve been watching John and know how good he has been in the last six months, performing really well with Ulster.

“I don’t think we’ve seen Conor at his best for 12-18 months but I think both players would benefit if John got to start a game in the Six Nations. That might sound strange but Conor has been in the position for the past eight years — starting all the big games for Ireland — and that brings its own pressure.”

conor-murray-and-john-cooney-dejected Conor Murray and John Cooney. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I’ll bring it back to myself. In 2009, I was second choice all season. I sat on the bench for the first three games and we won all three. Then I was selected to play in the fourth game and got man of the match. I’m not being big-headed about it, but it was an opportunity to stake a claim and I was eager to play.

I was on the bench again the following week for the Wales game, but it gave me the confidence that I knew I could do it when I came on. I think it would be the same for John if he got the chance to start.

“Andy has picked him in the squad and you put your faith in these players, so give him the experience. I’m not saying Conor won’t play for Ireland again but it would be great for the two lads and Conor might get a bit of a kick that he needs.

“I had that a few years ago and everyone needs it in their career. I have massive respect for Conor and what he has done. He has been world class and one of the best on the planet for the last number of years but there’s a time in everyone’s career when someone else comes along.

“I’ve no doubt that Conor will step up to this challenge and he is going to be a better player as a result.”

The Line-Out airs at 10pm on Virgin Media One every Thursday throughout the Guinness Six Nations. This week, the guests will include Irish rugby great Paul O’Connell and current Ireland international Joey Carbery. If you miss out, you can catch up on the Virgin Media Player. Every Guinness Six Nations game will also be shown live on Virgin Media Television. Please drink responsibly. To learn more, visit drinkaware.ie.

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