Cronin returns to Ireland mix determined to make up for missing November

The Leinster hooker was man of the match in Saturday’s win over Montpellier.

SEAN CRONIN’S ABSENCE from the November Tests was a real curiosity for Ireland fans, given that the hooker has had such a consistent impact for Joe Schmidt’s side over recent years.

Even if the Leinster man didn’t start this season at full tilt, many still expected Cronin to feature prominently, but Rob Herring and James Tracy were preferred as back-up to Rory Best for the clashes with South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.

Sean Cronin and Cian Healy celebrate Cronin was man of the match on Saturday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s a very different story heading into the Six Nations, however. Tracy is missing with an elbow injury but Cronin’s form has been irresistible.

Another man-of-the-match award in Leinster’s 23-14 win over Montpellier on Saturday was the latest effort from Cronin, who is feeling fit and confident.

Though many of us raised an eyebrow at his omission in November, Cronin could understand it.

“I just think I probably didn’t get going at the start of the season and I’ve been unfit when I came back,” said Cronin in Montpellier. “I had played three games in nine months, I wasn’t match fit and I didn’t really get going.

“Fair enough, I didn’t get into the November Tests, which was probably fair enough. I hadn’t been playing to my potential.

“I got a good chance to go back and work with the S&C guys here and with Leo and Stu giving me a chance over that November period to play. I was really happy and that got the ball rolling.”

Only 10 of Cronin’s 56 appearances for Ireland have been as the starting hooker and, while captain Best is obviously favourite to wear the number two shirt in this Six Nations, one senses a real determination from Cronin to add to his number of starts.

Sean Cronin and Aaron Cruden Cronin is back in the Ireland mix. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Getting back onto the bench to provide his usual level of impact for the opener away to France may be the more likely option for now, and Cronin is more eager than he has been for some time.

“I think you don’t know how much you enjoyed it until it’s gone and you’re missing it,” says the 31-year-old. “The guys were in there in November and did really well, so you want to be part of that.

“I’m happy to be back in there and I just want to push on now and get some game time. I think I’m in a good position that I want to try and play more for Ireland.

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“Hopefully, I go in and make an impression. That’s all I can do.”

While Cronin deserves the bulk of the credit for his impressive return to form, the manner in which Leinster use him on the pitch has aided his cause too.

Cronin is superb in the 15-metre channels, holding wide positions within Leinster’s attacking shape and then using his pace and power to evade tacklers once space has been created.

While Ireland use their hooker in that kind of position less often, Cronin has plenty to offer Schmidt as he makes his return to the set-up.

Sean Cronin Cronin was superb for Leinster on Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Away from finding his best form in rugby, Cronin has had his hands full too, with twin boys demanding plenty of attention.

Munster and Ireland out-half Ian Keatley has recently spoken about how having a child has helped his rugby, taking his mind off the game when he’s not at work, and Cronin is experiencing something similar.

“Try two of them! The lads turned one over Christmas and my wife has gone back to work, so it’s all hands on deck,” says Cronin.

“But it’s good, it’s great, and they come to some of the games – not the late kick-offs! It’s tough but it’s all part and parcel of life.”

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