Sunday 22 April 2018

Cronin: 'We have learned lessons from last season'

The big interview: Seán Cronin

Sean Cronin scoring a try during last weekend’s victory against Glasgow. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean Cronin scoring a try during last weekend’s victory against Glasgow. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

We catch up with Seán Cronin on a miserable evening in Dublin but it might as well be St Tropez in June such is his sunny disposition. The Ireland Six Nations squad had been announced earlier that day and his name was one of those included. Having been left out of the Guinness Series squad, it's good to be back and he'll hope to add to his 56 caps.

"It definitely is. I suppose in some ways you only realise what you're missing when it's gone and that was definitely the case here. I missed being involved, I missed being in camp in Carton House and now I just can't wait to get going."

We'll chat Six Nations and being back again later but first things first. Leinster in France. Three times last season they travelled and not once did they come away with a win. A losing bonus point against Montpellier, a draw against Castres and that agonising defeat to Clermont in the semi-final.

The season before that they faced Toulon in the December back-to-backs and went down 24-9 in the Stade Felix Mayol. So October 2014 was the last win on French soil against Castres. Cronin started that game so knows what it takes but also knows why it is so difficult.

"It is a cliché about the French sides that maybe they don't play as well away from home. I think that has dissipated over the last few years and you have seen sides like Clermont, Toulon, Montpellier, Racing go away from home and really challenge sides.

"But what you get playing in France and in French stadiums is unique. The atmosphere and the way the crowd get into the game, there is no let-up and in many ways you do need to experience it to understand it. The flip of it then is to enjoy it. Those are some of the great occasions in rugby and you have to be able to accept that, adapt and ultimately embrace it."

Jordan Larmour has been impressing Sean Cronin. Photo: Sportsfile
Jordan Larmour has been impressing Sean Cronin. Photo: Sportsfile

For some players starting out in their careers that enjoyment part may be less of a factor tomorrow but for Cronin he has been involved in enough trips to France to know what's what.

"I think we have learned lessons from last season too. I hope we have anyway. And again talking about experiencing it, lads were playing last season in their first game in France or a first semi-final. That stands to you. Definitely it does.

Punish

"It was also small margins in those three games I think. Little things that went against us but against quality sides they will punish you. So for us if we get our stuff right and we get a performance, we are capable of playing against anybody.

"Saturday is going to be another massive test for us but one that I think as a group we are looking forward to. A win in France is something that a lot of the lads haven't experienced yet and we are all keen to deliver a performance that can hopefully achieve that."

A good start, half the battle?

Sean Cronin has been boosted by returning to the Ireland squad but his immediate focus is a strong performance in France this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean Cronin has been boosted by returning to the Ireland squad but his immediate focus is a strong performance in France this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

"Most definitely. We focused on that a lot over this block and I think over the Christmas period in particular we saw that pay off. If you can get a good start and keep the crowd quiet, it definitely helps."

Of course the stand-alone win is important too for the long-term development of this 'new' Leinster Rugby squad. With every passing season there are less and less playing connections to the squads that lifted three Heineken Cup trophies. This squad want their own moments.

But there is also the small matter of the short-term implications for seeding and the latter stages of this season's Champions Cup. With the home quarter-final secure, the chance to secure top seeding would also put them in the mix for a home semi-final.

"We're aware of that alright. But look what's got us to this point is a really strong squad effort. The coaches have been driving us pretty hard and it's been good. So we have earned this shot at that top seeding but nobody is looking any further than 2pm tomorrow.

"Our game against them in the RDS was very nip and tuck, we scored, they scored. Could have gone either way. They're not top of the French Top 14 for nothing. They've huge strengths across the board and they know too that if they beat us and other results go their way, they keep their season alive.

"There is a lot to play for for both sides and we have to respect that desire that they will show but ultimately bring the focus back on us and what's driving us.

"It's going to take a 23-man effort to get that win in the Altrad Stadium but we're looking forward to the challenge."

Back to the news of the day and his inclusion in the Ireland squad. His omission for the Guinness Series caught most people by surprise but now that he's back he wants to grab the chance with both hands.

"I suppose last season with the injury was frustrating and it obviously kept me out of the Six Nations and then I missed the summer tour as well. But like there are never any guarantees that you get back in and that's where I think not getting in the squad gave me that extra bite, maybe that extra kick in the arse that I needed.

"I really was delighted to get the nod. A lot of work went into getting into the squad. My fitness, my S&C work and I can't speak highly enough of the staff in Leinster and how they helped me get to where I am. I feel good and I'm looking forward to it."

To give some context to the injury that derailed the last 12 months for him, Cronin has played 16 games for Leinster already this season eclipsing last season's final tally of 14.

Greater

Of course that tally would have been greater only for the hamstring injury picked up in January when coming off the bench against Zebre.

Without hesitation he expresses his "delight" at being back, so what must the new lad Jordan Larmour be feeling?

"Something similar I'm sure. I just can't get over the fact that when you look at the programme and you read his biog and he was born in 1997! That seems like yesterday!

"He has just burst onto the scene and he has taken it all in his stride. Whether that is training or in matches, everything, he just leaves it all out there on the field and for someone so young, he's a genuinely nice guy as well, so yeah, it's definitely the first of many call-ups for him."

Ireland have France first up on their schedule. But Carton and that trip to France can wait. Right now, it's about Cronin, Larmour & Co plotting and targeting that elusive Leinster win on French soil.

Irish Independent

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