Thursday 23 November 2017

James Cannon: Ex-Wasp loving life in the west as he seizes his opportunity

Powerful second-row poised for Champions Cup bow with new team after long wait

James Cannon is enjoying his time out west and aims to fight for his place on the starting XV. Photo: SPORTSFILE
James Cannon is enjoying his time out west and aims to fight for his place on the starting XV. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Daragh Small

Connacht have been decimated by injuries in recent months, but coach Pat Lam has been able to rely on a number of key individuals to hold the fort in the Pro12 and Champions Cup.

In the league, Connacht's status as reigning champions looks to be on the wane unless their luck changes drastically and the injury crisis eases for the second half of the season.

Connacht are eighth in the Pro12 after 12 games, but their European form has been in stark contrast to that, and they have their fate in their own hands as they prepare for Zebre tomorrow and then Toulouse in their final Pool 2 game.

Irish-qualified lock James Cannon was signed from Wasps in September as Lam looked to plug a gap in the second-row with players falling injured and hero of the Pro12 winning side, Aly Muldowney, gone to Grenoble.

And despite being part of Connacht's Champions Cup squad, Cannon is yet to feature in Europe - he was ineligible for the games against his former side Wasps.

However difficult it might have been to watch on, and see his new team be defeated 32-17 on his old stomping ground, Cannon admits to "mixed emotions" as Jack Carty struck the winning conversion in Connacht's sensational 20-18 victory over Wasps a week later.

"It was unfortunate that I couldn't play in those games but it was a weird feeling because I had been at Wasps until September and it was only a couple of months later that we were playing each other," says Cannon (28).

"But it was brilliant, the atmosphere in the Sportsground that day was fantastic and when that kick sailed through the posts it really was great. I had slightly mixed emotions - I have got a lot of friends that are still at Wasps and they were gutted, but on a personal level it was fantastic.

"The boys put in a hell of shift that day and it sets us up nicely for the next couple of weeks going into Europe."

The former Northampton Saint has fallen in love with Galway since he moved to the west of Ireland. Along with his girlfriend Sian, Cannon has taken to the city and he thinks it perfectly complements the life of a professional rugby player.

"It has been really good. The Connacht boys have been very welcoming as well as the people of Galway. I am really enjoying my time here," he says.

"I am living in the city, down by the Docks, right in the heart of things. And it's a great town. It's small but there is a lot going on and there is a lot to keep you entertained and take your mind off rugby, which is great."

EXPERIENCE

Cannon has not featured in Connacht's Champions Cup campaign yet but after 93 games in six seasons with Wasps he has plenty of experience to prove his worth over the coming months.

He began his professional career with Northampton, and now Cannon has set his sights on more regular game-time as he looks to stave of competition from Ireland international Ultan Dillane and others, as they return from injury.

"My goals were to come over here, to settle into the team as quickly as possible, to learn the style of play that Connacht are used to which is slightly different to what I have been used to in the past," he explains.

"Hopefully play as many games for Connacht as I can. I have been very fortunate over the last few weeks to get a run of games together and hopefully that will continue."

Cannon's father Vince played for Northampton between 1973 and 1989, amassing a colossal 438 appearances for the club.

And after James Cannon's soccer dreams proved wildly optimistic, his father inspired him to follow in his footsteps.

"One day my father said 'Look if you fancy giving rugby a go I will back and support you'. He took me down to local club which is Kettering Rugby Club. And then that's when it all started really.

"Before then I hadn't really thought about playing rugby much, purely because all of my mates were football crazy.

"I did give that a go but unfortunately I have got two left feet and ended up being put in goal all the time so that wasn't going to be the path for me.

"I tried my hand at swimming and tennis, loads of different sports before eventually finding rugby.

"Being tall and chunky as a youngster, I was a little bigger than everyone else, and that helped me enjoy the game more and I went from there."

Cannon would go on to represent England at U-20 level as part of the Grand Slam-winning team in 2008. He joined Wasps in 2010 and after a successful period with the English Premiership giants he moved to Ireland.

But he wants more at Connacht, and despite a slow start to his career he believes the team can turn their league form around in 2017 and they can continue to excel in Europe.

"In the league we have had a few results which we are pretty disappointed with recently. But we are only halfway through the season and there is a lot of rugby to be played," he says.

"We are looking to turn a corner with our league form. There is a lot of points that we can still pick up so hopefully we will see ourselves rise up the table in the not-too-distant future.

"We have to focus firstly on getting a performance and a win against Zebre. Then we will know what we have to do to secure qualification which is a big goal for us a squad."

Irish Independent

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