Muldoon and Ronan relishing chance to take on All Blacks
THERE is an overwhelming sense of trepidation among Irish rugby followers ahead of tomorrow's expedition to the southern hemisphere.
An extensive injury list and an inconsistent season for the national team and provinces have dampened morale and the prospect of taking on the world's top and third-ranked teams on their own patch -- not to mention a clash with the fearsome New Zealand Maoris -- appears fraught with peril.
However, one man's injury is another's opportunity and the spate of back-row withdrawals has opened the door for Connacht captain John Muldoon and Munster open-side Niall Ronan. While both men have been capped by their country, this is their first shot at the 'big time' as their previous experience came when Ireland's main men were on Lions duty last summer.
So, while this trip is undeniably daunting, for Muldoon and Ronan it is an experience to be savoured -- particularly as neither man has visited this rugby-mad part of the world previously.
"Throughout the years I would have played with a lot of Kiwis and I suppose a lot of them would have said it's good to get away from there because everything is rugby based," said Muldoon,
"It's a different change of life coming up to Galway, Limerick or wherever, in that it's not in their faces all the time, so it will probably be a bit different for me and Niall going down there compared to the lads who are probably used to it.
"For us it's probably like going to America. We've been to the Churchill Cup a couple of times and the NBA is everywhere. I'm sure it's even higher up than that."
Ronan is equally enthused and is enjoying the camp camaraderie even before the tour proper begins. "It's easy to come in and just meet the lads and have the craic with them. It's a good squad and there is great team spirit."
Both men are eyeing the vacant spot in the Irish back row created by injuries to Stephen Ferris, Kevin McLaughlin and Denis Leamy, with Muldoon in pole position.
Tonight's clash with the Barbarians is a chance to make their cases, particularly against a quality back-row of Alan Quinlan, George Smith, who has announced a move to Toulon next season, and captain Xavier Rush.