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'So much can be learnt by studying the star players'

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Munster's JJ Hanrahan in action during squad training ahead of their side's Guinness PRO12, Round 3, match against Zebre

Munster's JJ Hanrahan in action during squad training ahead of their side's Guinness PRO12, Round 3, match against Zebre

SPORTSFILE

Munster's JJ Hanrahan in action during squad training ahead of their side's Guinness PRO12, Round 3, match against Zebre

JJ Hanrahan admits that his natural instincts for the game means he is often regarded as a 'play what's in front of you' type of guy, but he is also a keen student of the game who is eager to learn from the best.

He lists Dan Carter, Matt Giteau, Jonathan Sexton and Lifeimi Mafi as players he regularly studies to pick up a trick or two in an effort to improve his game, while a savage workrate and propensity to pick holes in his own game - even when they are not there - means he keeps himself on his toes.

But despite the hours spent honing and mastering his game, it's hard to curb an instinctive nature. We all remember his marvellous touchline tightrope walk against Perpignan in last year's Heineken Cup which resurrected Munster's season, while his reputation soared in the green shirt with a masterful season for the Ireland U-20s in 2012.

However, it's his wish to mimic the greats that keep Hanrahan on track. Imagine a fly-half with the dead-ball and analytical ability of Carter, the defence of Giteau, the step of Mafi and the try scoring talents of Sexton. It's a lofty ambition, but that's what Hanrahan is striving for.

"There are certain players that I like because of what they do around the ball. I probably sit down once a month and go through my videos," he says.

"Our video analyst George Murray clipped up a few players for me. If I had an idea in my head, I would probably think 'I did this in a game, what they would do in the same situation?'.

"There is a reason that Johnny Sexton always scores tries, it is all about that second or third touch and running those support lines. Maybe that's something that's missing from my game for the last year and a half and that is something you need to have right.

"I am trying to improve my reading of the game and running the correct support lines, which Dan Carter happens to be very good at. He does this thing where he puts the ball into one hand, which looks like he is going to take it into contact, but then he changes and fellas are already committed to the tackle.

"Matt Giteau would be another, at 10 or 12 he is a great player and I think I really like his style of play. He is good on the gain-line, he knows when to take a step, he can put someone through a hole and he has great feet. He is incredible in defence, can kick at goal and out of hand as well and is just a real triple threat. If you have that in your game you are a danger to anyone.

MIMIC

"It is just interesting to look at players like that and you just see what you can do to kind of mimic them and by doing that improve your game because obviously they are doing the right stuff."

Hanrahan's own form makes for impressive reading too, though. Last year the Kerry native made 19 appearances in the league and scored three tries; he was named Munster young player of the year; he kicked 10 out of 10 against Cardiff Blues; and he was the league's Golden Boot winner last season with an 88.71pc return from the tee. Not bad for a 22-year-old who has yet to cement a starting role.

But even with all those achievements he is still vexed that he failed to achieve one of his personal goals: to start a Heineken Cup game, although he appeared in all eight games as a replacement.

When he sets a goal he goes full-on at getting there, and is hard on himself when he fails.

"The minute we lost in the Rabo semi to Glasgow I was in mourning for two weeks. I had a few aims along the way, and another was to start Heineken Cup games. That never happened for me and straight away I was really upset about that," he says.

"I got the young player of the year, but that was never a goal for me and when it came it took me two weeks to come to terms with it. My goal-kicking standards were really up in the Pro12 too, but they were things that I never really thought about.

"It is a constant debate with my girlfriend and my family that I'm too hard on myself.

"I watched a Ted Talk there recently that says 'happiness in the workplace is a myth'. For example, if you want to start for Munster and you do start for Munster, then you are not happy with it. You immediately forget about the goal you just had and target the next one. It's a funny thing, but I feel if I am not hard on myself I won't get to where I want to go."

First stop on that journey is his return to the Munster colours this season.

A tour with Emerging Ireland during the summer kept him ticking over, but also delayed his Munster comeback, while he has finally managed to shake off a persistent groin injury which hampered him at times last season.

"I am feeling the best I have felt in probably 18 months. I am running and kicking freely, which is something I haven't done in a long time, which is great," he says.

"Trying to become first choice is definitely the aim, I think every player in Munster wants to do that. They want to stick with the province, make a name for themselves and go where they want to go with Munster and win silverware.

"With all of the new coaches I really like their philosophies in attack. That attack in particular should suit my rugby so I am really looking forward to getting out there and playing."

Irish Independent