Wednesday 17 July 2019

'It's a big month but we will not get ahead of ourselves'

Injuries and suspension means Ballincollig prop is eager to play his part straight away

Prop James Cronin in action for Munster against Worcester Warriors in August. Photo: Sportsfile
Prop James Cronin in action for Munster against Worcester Warriors in August. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

January 2017 could become one of the most important months in just under a decade for Munster Rugby, but the players haven't let that enter their minds as they embark on three crucial Champions Cup games over the next three weeks.

It all begins tomorrow at Stade Yves Du Manoir where Munster face off against Racing 92 in Paris. Seven days later, Rassie Erasmus' side make the unenviable journey to Scotstoun where Glasgow Warriors lie in wait, and they round off their Pool 1 campaign back in Thomond Park on January 21.

Munster were on a seven-game winning run before they were brought back down to earth by an Owen Williams penalty in Leicester, and they lost 18-16 at Welford Road.

But since then they have picked things up again - big inter-provincial-derby victories at home to Leinster and away to Connacht soon followed and they are full of confidence ahead of their trip back to Paris. But it will be a tough one for all concerned.

Ireland international loosehead James Cronin missed the trip to Racing 92 after he was cited for an stamping incident involving Leinster scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park.

The 26-year-old prop was given a four-week ban and he wasn't in the Munster team hotel on that ill-fated Sunday morning, when the news broke that his head coach Anthony Foley had passed away.

"It will be emotional. I wasn't there myself the last time, so thankfully I have no baggage of the experience the guys have from that day over there," says Cronin.

"But obviously it will be so tough. Axel was a massive help to everyone here, he probably gave everyone their first chance and it was devastating for everyone in the organisation and in the wider rugby community. It was just one of the lads that rang me to tell me the news, and I didn't even believe him at first. It was just a shock at the time really. It was tough for us back then, and it's going to be a tough few days ahead.

"Axel is in everyone's thoughts every week and it's still not real for any of us. With the forwards we would have meetings every week and there were little tips he would give us on our game. You never forget those things and you would always be thankful for it.

"From our point of view, this week we just all concentrate on the same goals that we normally would, which is to win against Racing 92 in France."

After that initial Racing 92 fixture was postponed, Munster went on an irresistible run that was halted momentarily at Leicester. Crucially they got the losing bonus point that day and they are poised to qualify from their pool for the first time since 2013-'14.


In the Pro12 they are two points clear of Ospreys at the top and Cronin starred in their win over Connacht last weekend.

"It was a good win, good to grind it out up there. Connacht are probably not on a high like last year, but they are still tough enough.

"We toughed it out. Our defence was very good. On a personal note, the pack weren't happy with how we scrummaged. We didn't scrummage how we would like to, we scrummaged on their terms.

"In fairness to Connacht they had a good scrum on the day against us. We ground it out but we know we have a lot to work on."

The Ballincollig native has now played 73 times for Munster, and with three caps for Ireland he has massive experience in the game.

Cronin is thriving under the defensive guidance of Jacques Nienaber and he says that the South African has been a key aspect for Munster's success. "He is a very good coach, brings a lot of line-speed. He wants us to be aggressive but controlled.

"He lets everyone express themselves. If you are good at chop tackles he wants you to chop tackle, if you are good at hitting at chest height you go for them and the same with choke tackles.

"He wants everyone to express themselves. It's very positive and everyone is buying into it and loves working with him."

Deep down all of the Munster players know there is something special around the corner, and January could pave the way for silverware in 2017, if things go right for them.

But Cronin remains adamant that nobody is looking past Racing 92 this weekend, and following on from that they will be solely focused on Glasgow Warriors.

"It's good, we are not getting ahead of ourselves. We are taking it week by week, we know, to be fair to Leicester, you can't take any game for granted and we got a bit of kick up the ass with that late penalty over there.

"We are just taking each game as it comes but it is very positive at the moment and it's about every sticking together and doing that.

"It is a big month for us but we are not getting ahead of ourselves. We will just take it each game as it comes.

"We are not looking any further ahead than this game now and then we can move on after that. We had a similar situation last year so it's something that we are used to."

For Cronin, injury has cost him dearly in the past but his fitness remains intact right now, and he hopes that will continue for the rest of this season.

"I had a bad run of it with suspension and injury last year. Suspension was my own stupidity but overall I haven't really been able to gather any momentum. I am hoping that 2017 will be better.

"I haven't got any New Year's resolutions, I suppose I just want to stay fit."

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