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'There is nothing won. No trophies or medals got yet'

Expectation is high at unbeaten Leinster but out-half is keeping his feet firmly on the ground, as he tells Marcus Ó Buachalla

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Ciarán Frawley after scoring a try against Connacht. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciarán Frawley after scoring a try against Connacht. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ciarán Frawley after scoring a try against Connacht. Photo: Sportsfile

Déjà vu. Ciarán Frawley laughs when he thinks of the two injuries that curtailed his start to the 2018/'19 season and then struck again at the start of the 2019/'20 season. He didn't play his first game last year until the Southern Kings in November and just shy of exactly 12 months later he would make his seasonal bow as he came off the bench against the Dragons to kick-start this season.

He is able to laugh it off now because since his return he has seen consistent game-time and has made some notable appearance milestones but it does make him appreciate the opportunities even more.

"I definitely was looking on this year. Right. Get a good pre-season in, get a few friendlies under the belt and then put my hand up for selection but then, as you said, injury hit. It makes you cherish the opportunities when you get them because look all around you.

"The quality we have here is unbelievable so I knew that it was a chance that I'd have to let go. Get the injury right and then try to come back stronger for it. Thankfully, I've done that because it can be tough."

What did he find most challenging in his two injury lay-offs?

"Being on the outside. You are nearly excommunicated from the group. In reality, you aren't of course. You are in the system, you have a role but you are still on your own rehab programme.

"The weeks when you are ploughing away, you and your rehab physio, hours of work on your own, that's when it's tough because the onus is on you and it took me a while to learn that. Your contribution is still important. You are still at the meetings, you are still expected to speak up and I suppose when you aren't on the training pitch the natural reaction is maybe to stay quiet but you have to learn to back yourself.

"To be fair, the environment is great for that and for encouraging everyone to have a view, both young and old, those fit and those injured. But it's human nature really to feel like you are on the outside. Then when you are back and you get that shot, you have to take it."

He has taken his shots alright. He has 22 caps in total so far but this is his first season as a senior professional and since his return in November he has played in eight games, three of which were in Europe and three of which were Christmas interpros.

Amazing

To Europe first. A Champions Cup debut against Northampton Saints.

"Amazing. Playing in the Aviva for the first time ever too. It was really special and obviously we were in that tricky back-to-back situation with Northampton and it's a new thing for me to be prepping for the same team two weeks in a row.

"Such a huge honour to pull on a Leinster jersey in a European fixture. You think of all the people that helped you in Skerries Rugby Club and in Skerries Community College. The coaches I had in UCD and now over the last few years in Leinster. Your family, your mates. Massive games, and then to get a win just topped it all off."

He would add further caps off the bench against Lyon and against Benetton Rugby in the New Year but sandwiched between those European fixtures was the nod from Leo Cullen for the three interpro games over Christmas. On the bench against Ulster and Munster and then a start against Connacht in the RDS.

"Every kid grows up watching those games, the interpros and Irish lads going at each other and suddenly then you are there in the eye of the storm, dealing with a brilliant Ulster team or down in Thomond in that atmosphere or against a Connacht team playing brilliant attacking rugby. They all tested us in different ways but to come through unbeaten says a lot about this group at the moment."

There is a particular image taken by Sportsfile of a tight group of five Leinster players embracing and celebrating at the full-time whistle in Thomond Park. There is barely an inch of space between them. Hugo Keenan, James Lowe, Hugh O'Sullivan, Jimmy O'Brien and Frawley are the five and it captures the mood of that game and possibly of this group better than any words could, but the Skerries native tries his best.

"We scored everything in the first half so the rest of the game was about holding out against a Munster team that hadn't lost there in two years. We rode our luck a bit, but then we probably left a few scores out there as well in that second half.

"But ultimately when they are kicking to the corner with time almost up to go for a lineout and then a maul, you know it's bodies-on-the-line kinda stuff. When Ross Molony came up with that massive play at the end and then we had a few more massive defensive sets before that…

"I think you could just see what it meant to everyone. The tightness we have. The cohesion we have. We all grew an extra few feet that day I think because we've had games in the past away from home where things haven't gone well but that day we all felt six feet tall…even Hughie!"

He volunteers himself a flashback to his own pass inside the Munster 22 last season that Keith Earls picked off and galloped the length of the field to score a try. You attempt to move the conversation on but he interjects.

Define

"The truth hurts. That hurt. But what do you do? You can either let that define you or you can learn from it and be better the next time and we have done that a few times this season."

More than a few. As has been well-documented they are 16 from 16, unbeaten. How do they stay focused and ignore the chatter?

"Easy. We respect the opposition too much to start thinking of records or too far ahead. There is nothing won. No trophies won or medals got. While we were off on a mini-break the Cheetahs were tearing it up and got two try-bonus wins in the PRO14. They've got really powerful men from one to 13 and then at 11, 14 and 15 they've got pace to burn, a lightning-quick back-three. So that respect we show them, we show everyone. We'll have our prep done and we'll hope to put in a performance at the RDS."

Irish Independent