Friday 20 July 2018

Kerryman back in the hunt for silverware in red shirt

Familiar surroundings and helpful set-up has talented playmaker ready to take his chance

JJ Hanrahan has thrived with Munster since recovering from injury
JJ Hanrahan has thrived with Munster since recovering from injury

Daragh Small

JJ Hanrahan left Munster in search of a broader outlook on life, an insight into a different style of rugby, and a fresh start at Northampton Saints.

His goal was always to return, but while in England the Kerry native got to experience first-hand how it feels to play for one of the big clubs in the Aviva Premiership.

With a potential Grand Slam decider at Twickenham on St Patrick's Day, it's likely the rigorous Premiership schedule will come into focus over the coming weeks.

Hanrahan spent two seasons as part of that system, and he believes it takes an extraordinary athlete to cope with it.

"The main thing for me is if you look at our schedule in the PRO14 you have a lot more time off. Over there if it's not Europe it's the Premiership, if it's not the Premiership it's the LV (Anglo-Welsh) Cup," said Hanrahan.

"You are playing every week. If you are an international you go into international camp and on your first week back you are playing again.

"The level of preparation they go through with their bodies to be able to play that many games is something you definitely learn. I didn't have a week off bar injury in the two years I was there. It is full metal jacket.

"Ideally for the national game, the rest and looking after the players is definitely a better model."

And while the Six Nations continues in the background, this weekend the PRO14 kicks back into gear as Munster host Zebre at Thomond Park tomorrow evening.

The 25-year-old out-half has 75 Munster caps to his name already, even despite his hiatus at Franklin's Gardens.

Injury initially marred his return but Hanrahan has since thrived under former team-mate, and now backline and attack coach Felix Jones.

"It was definitely a different dynamic at the start but Felix worked it really well. He had played with the majority of the guys, so I am not the only one in that position," said Hanrahan.

"He is just very honest. He has a very good work ethic. He is easy to approach and you could still have the craic with him like when he was a player.

"Not much has changed really bar that he is more involved in coach meetings and you are going to him to review your game.

"I would have done it as a player with him anyway because he was the senior player. It's not very different but it's a good work relationship.

"Felix has taken to coaching very well. The way he delivers his messages, the way he gets his point across is excellent. He keeps it very precise and sharp in what he is trying to get across.

"Players take that very well and we are full of confidence from the training and work we have put in.

Attacking

"We are trying to grow our attacking game all the time. These things take time and unfortunately with anything when you are trying to bring in something new there are always teething problems and mistakes in games.

"But overall as a group our attacking is definitely getting a lot better, even from the start of the season. The options we are playing with now and our shape is definitely improving.

"I am definitely more comfortable in this game-plan. There are differences but it's not massive. Rugby, at the end of the day, is about trying to get momentum. It's about trying to play in the right areas.

"There are minor differences in our attack. But I definitely feel comfortable around this system."

Last year's beaten finalists have won eight of their 13 PRO14 games this season and they currently lie second in Conference A behind Glasgow Warriors.

Johann van Graan's side also have a home Champions Cup quarter-final to look forward to against Toulon on March 31.

"We definitely want to achieve silverware this year. We shouldn't shy away from that at all. It's what we are looking at. That's the ambition," said Hanrahan.

"The main thing for us is that the process is right each week. That we put our head down and we work hard each week in training and take each game as it comes.

"We know our ambitions are there and a lot of other teams have the same ambition.

"But we just need to make sure each week is top level and that we are not dropping off. You can't just be there for one game, you have to be performing at the top level consistently.

"The year I left we were in a PRO12 final that year and just didn't show up in Belfast unfortunately.

Last year they were in a PRO12 final as well and a semi-final in Europe. Even before that when I was first coming through we were in two European Cup semi-finals.

"We have been very, very close. You definitely gain strength as a group from all of those near failures. We are definitely getting there, you just need that extra 5pc to become that championship-winning team, and that is what we are working on at the moment."

Hanrahan is desperate to win something with the province that he supported as a child, and he is just thrilled to be back in the set-up.

"I couldn't be happier to come home to Munster. It's where I grew up and where I am from. Munster is home so I am very happy with it," said Hanrahan.

"I went away for the experience aspect of life and rugby and things like that. When you leave Munster it would be silly to think that you could just walk back in.

"Luckily and thankfully the opportunity came up and I'm back again."

Irish Independent

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