Tuesday 16 January 2018

Past success heaps pressure on players to qualify – Cronin

David Kelly

David Kelly

Sean Cronin has admitted it would be "tough" for Leinster to bow out of the Heineken Cup as he prepares to commit to remaining at the province beyond this season's desperate attempt to defend their title.

Less than a month after declaring he was happy to remain with Leinster beyond the length of his current deal that expires next summer, Cronin did confirm he had signed a new contract – except he wouldn't yet say with whom.

Cronin reportedly had advanced discussions with Connacht at the end of last year but the current coaching uncertainty there may have influenced whatever negotiations had taken place.

The western province's head coach search descended into farce once more yesterday with Sean Holley's blunt rejection of the position due to "timing and personal" reasons, despite the fact that he had himself applied for the role.

Asked had he mapped out his future plans, Cronin – currently embroiled in a weekly scrap for a starting berth at Leinster with fellow Ireland international Richardt Strauss – was giving nothing away. "There'll be an announcement in the next couple of weeks," said Cronin (right).

With Leinster, obviously? "There'll be an announce-ment in a couple of weeks," he reiterated. Expect Leinster to confirm the signing within the month.

And so to Leinster's own, less certain future. The mathematics are simple; the miracles required to obviate the numbers less so.

Clermont Auvergne need nothing more than a regulation four-point win at home to Exeter Chiefs this weekend to book their place in the last eight for the third time in the last four tournaments.

Their double over Leinster means the defending champions probably need bonus-point wins over the Scarlets and Exeter to be in the best runners-up shakedown.

However, there are already four other second-placed clubs with more points than Leinster's 10, with just two places up for grabs, and their abysmal try-scoring record hardly aids their cause.

No club has qualified as a best runner-up with less than 19 points, although in 2003/04 (Celtic Warriors) and in 2006/07 (Ospreys) both found that 20 points was not sufficient to make the knockout stage.

Leicester in 2004/05 and Northampton in 2009/10 each qualified as a best runner-up on 19.

"Miracles happen in sport, I guess," said coach Joe Schmidt in the immediate aftermath of a second successive defeat to current competition favourites Clermont. "But your mathematical long shots very seldom come to being."

Cronin knows the difficulties which must be overcome before they seek favours from elsewhere.

"It would be a huge disappointment, there's no sense of beating around the bush," he said. "The success they've had in recent years in this competition has been integral to their success as a club.

"And that's why there's such a huge amount of pressure on the players and those involved with the club this week. It's so crucially important, as is the following week.

"But it's all about trying to get ourselves ready and building, to prepare ourselves as well as we can."

Leinster not only need to win this weekend, they need to do in 80 minutes what they have failed to do in four games already this campaign: score more than three tries.

Last Friday's scintillating effort against Edinburgh in the Pro12, backboned for the first time this campaign by a fully fit squad, invests them with some confidence.

"It's not ideal ever to be chasing a situation like we are, but we know our fate is in our own hands," said Cronin. "We have to put in the performance to try and get as much as we can out of the game."

Irish Independent

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