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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 5 August, 2020

Cronin taking nothing for granted as he works hard to 'right the wrongs' of Rome

The Leinster hooker admits his 68 caps won’t be enough to get him on the plane to Japan.

THE LAST TIME we saw Sean Cronin in green was back in Rome in February, the hooker’s first Six Nations start for Ireland not going as planned, so much so that he was the fall guy for a horribly poor team performance.

From the starting XV at the Stadio Olimpico, Cronin was, not for the first time under Joe Schmidt, unceremoniously cast aside for the final two weeks of Ireland’s sorry Six Nations campaign. 

Sean Cronin, Andrew Porter and Bundee Aki Cronin during Friday's open session at Thomond Park. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While Cronin rebounded strongly from the disappointment of being dropped by Ireland to help Leinster to their second successive Guinness Pro14 title, it would be understandable if the 33-year-old felt he has something of a point to prove. Again.

Recalled to Ireland’s extended World Cup training panel, Cronin has put the head down in camp over the last four weeks as he faces direct competition from Niall Scannell and Rob Herring to get on the plane to Japan alongside captain Rory Best.

Even with 68 caps — and two World Cups — to his name, Cronin is taking nothing for granted this time around as the competition for places in Schmidt’s squad cranks up a gear with the first of the warm-up games on the horizon.

“I don’t think what I’ve done before will stand to me [for selection], because what the coaches are saying is they’re not looking back, they’re looking forward,” Cronin says.

“I’m just trying to put in as much effort as I can. If I get an opportunity in those [warm-up] games, I know it’s going to be a limited window for me to play well and I probably have to do a bit more than I did the last game. It’s going to be a big opportunity for me if I get the chance.”

With Conor O’Shea’s Italy first up at the Aviva Stadium on 10 August, Cronin would relish the chance to pull on the green jersey again and ‘right the wrongs’ from last time out.

“I suppose as a professional you always have a point to prove,” he continued. “That’s kind of the way I’ve been looking at things. You need to have that bouncebackability. That’s the great thing about professional sport, hopefully get another chance and if things don’t work out, put the wrongs right and that’s all you can do.”

The competition for places in Ireland’s squad, not just at hooker but across every position, has resulted in the levels of intensity during the first block of training go through the roof as players bid to stake their claim for selection.

John Ryan and Sean Cronin Cronin endured a tough 73 minutes against Italy back in February. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With the focus on strength and conditioning work during the week-long camps in Carton House, Galway and Limerick, the 45-man panel have been pushed to their limits by the coaches, with Cronin admitting it has been the toughest block he’s ever experienced as a professional.

“Yeah, it’s tough, even the weight sessions are pretty intense,” the hooker explained.

“They’re challenging, but they’re good. The coaches are getting the best out of us and lads are enjoying it, especially when Friday lunchtime comes and we get to go home with a good week behind you. 

That first week in Carton House was one of the toughest weeks I’ve put down since I’ve been a professional. It has been challenging, but enjoyable as you can see yourself getting the gains as the weeks go on. Everyone seems to be pretty happy at the way we’re going.

After a down week, Ireland will continue their preparations at the IRFU’s new facility at Abbotstown, where the focus will shift to rugby-based training ahead of that first summer outing against Italy at the start of next month.

Cronin knows better than most that the schedule of four warm-up games will be crucial when Schmidt has to whittle down his squad to 31 for Japan.

“I don’t think there are many World Cup squads around that you have your 31 guys solidified, so lads are competing out there and trying to put their best foot forward to get that spot on the plane,” he added.

“I was obviously at the ones in 2011 and 2015 and this has probably been the most competitive squad I’ve been in. It’s going to be tough to get in.

“That Abbotstown week is going to be big in terms of building the set-piece and breakdown. Any guys who get an opportunity to play in that first game is going to get a massive chance to put their first stamp on trying to get selected for Japan.”

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Ryan Bailey

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