Ronaldson happy to be centre of attention
Connacht injury crisis escalates for Lam
Connacht coach Pat Lam is struggling with an escalation of injury problems. Photograph: Dan Sheridan
Sport has an uncanny knack of reuniting people. On Friday night at the RDS Leinster outhalf Ian Madigan shifted to inside centre for the last nine minutes of the match. Craig Ronaldson wore the green number 12 of Connacht.
Six years ago the pair collided in a Leinster Schools Senior Cup quarter-final, in which Ronaldson’s Kilkenny College shocked Blackrock College after a replay. Leinster’s late penalty try ensured that Madigan had the bragging rights on this occasion.
Their respective careers undertook wildly divergent paths from that day as schoolboys in Donnybrook, Madigan’s (24) adorned by Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cup success and also four caps, to date, for Ireland. The route to the professional arm of the sport has been a more circuitous affair for Ronaldson (23). Three years on the Kilkenny SCT team at outhalf, a couple of years on a hugely successful Lansdowne Under 20s team and then three seasons on the club’s senior side, the last of which culminated in an Ulster Bank Division 1A title. Ronaldson chipped in with 206 points during the campaign.
He’d always harboured a desire to play professional rugby, considering moving to England, but instead spent three years getting at degree in Sports Management at UCD while playing for Lansdowne. His talent was recognised during the summer when Connacht offered a one-year contract.
“At this point (in my life) I wanted to stay in Ireland so getting a call from Connacht didn’t require much deliberation. It’s been great so far. Being able to fully commit to playing rugby (previously he spent time working in Wesley College teaching PE) has been brilliant. “My preference would be outhalf but I’m delighted to fill in anywhere I’m required. We’ve had quite a few injuries this season so I’ve been given a few runs in the centre. There’s a bit more tackling to do there than I am used to,” he laughed.
“It’s all about the team. I think you saw that at the RDS with the commitment from the players. The result was frustrating. I’m happy enough with how things are going. I’m learning every day and it’s a great environment for that. I have spoken to Pat (Lam) and he’s been very encouraging.”
In mentioning the Leinster match, Ronaldson admitted: “It’s the biggest crowd I have every played in front of and it was a wonderful atmosphere. As a player you do feed off it.”
It’s a far cry from his days in Naas, where he began his rugby as a seven-year-old. The eldest of four children, Mark (20, in Australia), Hugh, who is in fifth year at Kilkenny, and Vicki (10), all were encouraged to play multiple sports. It was an attitude fostered by dad, Tim, a trustee in Naas RFC and Mum, Jacqui, a hockey coach.
Ronaldson played golf and tennis but on reaching secondary school rugby took primacy. He’s realised an ambition to a degree. “I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity. My goal at the start of the season was to settle in, learn as much as I could and try and make match squads. I am on a one year contract and it’s up to me to prove that I am good enough to earn another one.”
Connacht coach Pat Lam might be wondering when an injury crisis escalates to an epidemic after he lost two more players ahead of Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro12 game against the Glasgow Warriors at the Sportsground.
Andrew Browne tore his hamstring against Leinster and will be out for four weeks while a likely replacement Aaron Conneely suffered an injury in training yesterday, leaving just three fit backrow options for the weekend. Lam was already without John Muldoon (calf), Willie Faloon (foot) and Eoin McKeon (foot).
“Andrew has a pretty bad hamstring tear so he’ll be out for a minimum of four weeks,” he said. “And we lost Aaron at training today, so that’s another back rower. He could be our for three to four weeks as well.
“At this stage we’re probably going to have to look at coverage from the secondrow, Aly Muldowney or Mick Kearney could do that. We don’t have another out-and-out seven, just young Rory Moloney, but Rory is only 18 or 19. He has a big future, but he is only 90-odd kilos at this stage.”
Robbie Henshaw is with Ireland and unavailable, Danie Poolman is troubled by a hamstring while Eoin Griffin and Kyle Tonetti are also injured. Better news is that hooker Jason Harris Wright and prop Nathan White could be fit for Saturday.