Tuesday 16 January 2018

Hanrahan ready to step into the breach for Munster

JJ Hanrahan made his Heineken Cup debut for Munster last weekend
JJ Hanrahan made his Heineken Cup debut for Munster last weekend
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

IT was a quirk of fate that thrust Munster's young tyro JJ Hanrahan into the limelight.

The withdrawal of Paddy Jackson from the squad in the build-up to the Junior Rugby World Cup last summer left coach Mike Ruddock in a quandary. Jackson had been his captain and out-half in the U-20 Six Nations campaign that has been sprinkled with promise.

Ruddock's side recorded a first win on French soil at the grade and were beaten in a Grand Slam game by England. Any success at the World Cup surely required Jackson's presence.

But Jackson's progress with Ulster was rapid and, in the space of a couple of months, he had worked himself ahead of Ian Humphreys in the pecking order at Ravenhill. A full contract followed and suddenly, Ruddock needed a new No 10.

Hanrahan had spent the Six Nations campaign in midfield but Ruddock switched him to out-half for the tournament in South Africa and he hasn't looked back since.

He guided Ireland to a fifth-placed finish -- Ireland's best ever in the tournament -- and in the process earned himself a nomination for the Junior Player of the Year award.

Hanrahan was beaten to the ultimate honours by Jan Serfontein, a man who is tipped to be part of the Springboks squad when it is named next week.

By being nominated for the award Hanrahan follows in the footsteps of Jamie Heaslip, who was edged out by New Zealand's Jerome Kaino in 2004. Heaslip has since been capped 50 times for Ireland, while Kaino is just two off that mark and is a World Cup winner.

When Hanrahan returned to Ireland, he was named as part of Munster's youthful Heineken Cup squad and made his debut in that competition last weekend.

His adaptability will prove beneficial down the line. The Ireland No 10 shirt will be keenly contested in the coming years, with Jonny Sexton set to meet challenges from Jackson, Ian Madigan and others.

But now, Ronan O'Gara is concentrating on returning to fitness for the autumn internationals, meaning Ian Keatley is the province's frontline 10.

It would seem to be an opportune time for Munster to speed up Hanrahan's senior rugby education, which has so far been limited to a couple of appearances off the bench and, in the process, protect Keatley from injury.

The Currow youngster is registered in the province's Heineken Cup squad so could conceivably see action in the back-to-back clashes with Saracens in December, meaning he could start at home to the winless Zebre at Thomond Park on Friday night.

History suggests he would take the chance with both hands.

Irish Independent

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