Cronin gets late call to prop up Schmidt's Spain sunshine boys
For the first time since taking over as Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt has organised a warm weather training camp for his squad.
James Cronin was among the group who departed Dublin for the Oliva Nova Beach & Golf Resort just south of Valencia yesterday morning as the loosehead prop replaced his club-mate Dave Kilcoyne.
Kilcoyne was the only causality from the final weekend of European action and he has remained in Munster, where his knee injury is being monitored by the medical staff.
The 29-year-old is enjoying an excellent season and had been chosen ahead of Jack McGrath on the bench for the key November internationals.
The extent of Kilcoyne's knee problem remains to be seen but he left Thomond Park on crutches following Sunday's win over Castres and looks to be a doubt for at least the Six Nations opener in Paris on February 3.
Cronin himself has been plagued by injuries in recent times but has been in fine form since making his latest return from a calf injury.
The Cork native won the third of his three international caps when Ireland last visited Paris in the 2016 Six Nations. He faces an uphill task to force his way into the match-day squad ahead of Leinster duo Cian Healy and Jack McGrath - who has also rediscovered his best form - but Cronin's inclusion is fully merited.
His promotion to the squad ensures that Munster's representation in the 36-man international squad remains at 10.
Leinster to provide the bulk with 18 players reporting for duty, while Connacht and Ulster have four each.
Schmidt's decision to bring the squad to Spain came as something of a surprise, with no prior indication that the warm-weather camp was in his Six Nations plans.
Ireland will return on Friday, with Schmidt and captain Rory Best leaving on Wednesday to attend the tournament launch in London, before rejoining the squad in Spain. The warmer climate will allow Ireland get through this week's training load in better conditions than could be expected at Carton House, where the players reconvened on Sunday night.
The Kiwi follows Eddie Jones' lead as he regularly organises warm weather camps for England, who are currently in Portugal preparing the defence of their Six Nations title.
Schmidt will have been relieved that Jacob Stockdale was able to travel with the squad after the 21-year-old had to be replaced in the early stages of Ulster's defeat against Wasps. The flying winger suffered nothing more than a dead leg.
Despite Kilcoyne's absence, the Ireland squad is largely in rude health and Schmidt will be hoping that five days in Spain will be the ideal preparation for a gruelling campaign.
French plans for that opener at the Stade de France have been hampered by the news that Morgan Parra and Brice Dulin have withdrawn due to injury.
New coach Jacques Brunel has called up Bordeaux scrum-half Baptiste Serin as replacement for the experienced Parra, with Toulon full-back Hugo Bonneval coming in for Dulin.
Serin, a live-wire scrum-half, had been first choice before he was overtaken by Antoine Dupont during the November internationals.
Parra's form with Clermont had seen him recalled to the French squad for the first time in two years but the 29-year-old suffered a knee injury against the Ospreys, who are on the look out for a new head coach after Steve Tandy was relieved of his duties yesterday.
Racing 92's Dulin was injured in their win in Leicester on Sunday as the newly-appointed Brunel is forced to reassess his options before the crunch opening clash in Paris.