Cronin desperate to prove his worth
JERRY FLANNERY'S long-awaited return from injury has garnered most of the attention ahead of the opening World Cup warm-up against Scotland, but there is another Irish hooker with a great deal to play for in Murrayfield this afternoon.
Sean Cronin has been on the international scene for nearly two years now and -- with Flannery out injured for most of that period -- has become a regular fixture in Declan Kidney's squad, most usually as back-up to Rory Best.
His 12 caps have brought just four starts, the most significant being against New Zealand and Australia on last summer's injury-ravaged tour, when Cronin came through well in difficult circumstances.
He started the dogged wins over Samoa and Argentina last November, but his Six Nations was reduced to cameo roles in each of the five games.
Thus, Cronin heads into today's encounter full of enthusiasm. Ireland will take three hookers to the World Cup and the expectation is that, if Flannery comes through August back to fitness and form, the pecking order will be Flannery, Best and Cronin in that order.
Best is regarded as the most technically proficient scrummager, Cronin the most dynamic, and Flannery the best all-round No 2, combining consistent line-out throwing with strong scrum-work and power in the loose. However, Cronin has been working hard on his line-out accuracy and scrummaging under the guidance of Greg Feek, while his pace and verve in the loose are ideally suited to the new-found vogue for more fluid rugby.
While aware of the realities of the hooker rankings, Cronin is also aware that this afternoon is a chance to make a point, particularly against an opponent as established as Scotland's Lions hooker Ross Ford.
"I'm a couple of years involved (with Ireland) and I'd like to think I'm firmly in the management's plans for the World Cup," says Cronin.
"Looking back on the Six Nations, I wasn't too happy with my own game and how the season ended. I singled out a few things I wanted to bring into pre-season, and try and work on them myself. There is competition for places, and hopefully I can get a bit of game time in these warm-up games and try to put the best foot forward.
"I've watched Jerry long enough, and played with Jerry in Shannon. It has been a while since he played, and presumably it's difficult to get back into the swing of things, especially when it's full contact and full match pace. But he's done terrifically well to come back and we'll see how he goes.
"But having competition is the kind of thing that drives you on, especially with Jerry coming back on to the scene. If you get a chance in one of these games, you are going to have to do your best."