Cronin glad to be back in thick of it as Leinster 'stick to their guns' to thwart Munster

The hooker made an impact in Thomond Park last night after working his way back from a neck injury.

IT DIDN’T QUITE turn out to be the curtain-closing, lights-out hit.

Yet when Munster lock Darren O’Shea spun his wheels to make a big carry underneath the Leinster posts in Thomond Park last night, it felt like the inter-pro was settled when Sean Cronin met him square and low to power him back a metre beyond the gainline.

“I think I had a bit of help,” Cronin said post-match, leaving credit at the door of the relentless Will Connors.

leinster-players-celebrate-after-the-game Leinster celebrate the final whistle. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

On a night when Leinster extended their own streak and ended Munster’s 21-match unbeaten run at Thomond Park – a stretch going back to the eastern province’s last win in Limerick on St Stephen’s Day two years ago – it was fitting that Cronin would shine the spotlight on the collective.

However, there was a score of sweet personal notes for the hooker. Not just because he will stay in Limerick and hold bragging rights over his younger brother Neil after they played against each other for the very first time, but because that big impact came in his second match back from the neck injury that had sidelined him since the pool phase of the World Cup.

“That was a bit more open,” the hooker jokes of the 96-point shoot-out win over Ulster, “tonight was a more of a different hit-out, (one) I probably needed. I felt a tiny bit off the pace with that kind of stuff so it was pleasing to get that under the belt. Just glad to be back, a frustrating time with an injury like that so it’s really pleasing.”

He may have felt off the pace, but Cronin hit his markers at set-piece at crucial junctures and his impact off the bench clearly helped Leinster slog their way over the finish line to a 6-13 win.

andy-farrell Andy Farrell watches from the stands. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“Massive hit,” said head coach Leo Cullen, who lingered on the positive of a dogged defensive effort to keep Munster try-less after last weekend’s free-for-all against Ulster.

“That fight for each other at the end was the most pleasing. Last week (against Ulster), the last 20 minutes of the game we lost 28-7 – four tries to one – it really felt like we had lost that game even though it was a bonus point-win.

“It’s the manner of the game and overall scheme of the performance that’s most important to us.  We know parts of that performance weren’t perfect today, but at least there was a better dig-in for each other.”

That said, Cullen also brought up a caveat to the defensive effort, on a windswept night in Limerick it proved far more difficult to attack effectively that to defend.

It was almost like having two extra defenders with the wind. So defence was on top for most of the game. It was hard breaking both defences down ultimately.

“Lots of endeavour from both sets of players, but probably lacked a bit of cutting edge quality from both teams.

“To get a win down here is fantastic. A lot of young guys out there, they dig in at the end, that’s the most pleasing piece.

“Wave after wave it’s pick-and-go, close-quarter stuff, but at least we were getting bodies in the way to stop the ball-carrier with latches and all the other bits.”

For Johann van Graan, there was immense frustration after seeing ‘wave after wave’ crash on blue rocks. The South African raised an eyebrow at how the visitors managed to avoid an offside penalty during Munster’s late onslaught, but for the most part he was left lamenting an inability to sneak through the suffocating Leinster defence.

“It’s a quality side and that’s why they’re the champions I guess,” said Van Graan.

“I thought they handled the big moments better. We were in it until the last play of the game and unfortunately, we lost a line-out there on the goal line. Very frustrating, but well done to them.”

And there weren’t many moments bigger than Cronin’s. After missing out on an invite to Andy Farrell’s mini-camp in Abbotstown last weekend, he will hope to continue ramping his form back up to Test level while Ronan Kelleher recovers from a wrist injury. 

“It was good fronting up from everybody on the pitch at that stage, Munster were really piling the pressure on us but we stuck to our guns,” said the Limerick man who will take on another team from his past next weekend.

sean-cronin-and-devin-toner-celebrate-after-the-game Cronin and Devin Toner celebrate the win in Limerick. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“I don’t think anyone really jumped out of the system. We probably could have exited better when we did get turnovers or even had set-piece exits with line-outs, mauls and scrums.

“So it was really pleasing just to have that super effort towards the end, just to battle to try and keep them out. And there are areas we can work on for the next day going forward for Connacht.”

A New Year ahead, but Leinster are threatening to sustain the same old winning habit week in, week out.

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