Seán Cronin taking his opportunity to grab a frontrow seat with Leinster
Hooker is benefitting from a run of games
Leinster’s Seán Cronin is chased by Northampton’s Phil Dowson and Luther Burrel. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Amid the emotion of Richardt Strauss’ feel-good return this season, the manner in which Seán Cronin has plugged the gap should not be overlooked. In a season where frontline hookers have been hit with misfortune, Cronin has been a rock for Leinster this season, and tonight will start his 12th game of the campaign and sixth out of six in the Heineken Cup.
Since Strauss was sidelined, Cronin has started nine of Leinster’s last 13 games as well as appearing as a replacement in all of Ireland’s autumn Tests, notably when manfully replacing Rory Best in the first quarter. Cronin’s introduction that day co-incided with a defensive lineout, but it says everything about the way he has ironed out problems with his throwing that not only did he nail the throw, he generally does nowadays. It is no longer the issue of yore, witness Leinster’s 80 per cent return under his watch.
Then there’s his scrummaging, and most of all his superb lines of running and his dynamic carrying. While it was Seán O’Brien’s try which proved decisive in the first Heineken Cup win over the Ospreys in the Liberty Stadium, that score was indebted to Cronin’s trademark line, break and superb offload.
“It has been great to get the run of games,” he admitted this week. “I don’t think there is anything better. A player will always tell you that. Matt has shown a bit of faith in me, by giving me a few starts. It has been good to get a run of games and the fact that we are still in the hunt for the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup and going well in the Rabo. It has been great to be a part of.”
‘It was stupid’
A rare blemish was his ill-advised entry from the side in Castres last Sunday which banished him to the sidelines for the last ten minutes. “I thought I was okay the way Nigel [Owens] was playing the breakdown all game. It was stupid. It was pretty nerve wrecking for myself.”
“I thought I might as well skip the plane home maybe and stayed in Castres,” he notes dryly in the current climate. “Maybe, they might have signed me up for next year. I put them under [pressure] , in fairness. It was incredible stuff to dig in like that. They had a couple of mauls on our line. There were a few hugs for them after because I put them under serious pressure.”
Interestingly, Matt O’Connor revealed that he was a big fan of Cronin’s before setting up roots in Leinster. “I’d seen Seán play a lot, we flirted with signing him when I was at Leicester, one of the things that I spoke to him about was the hard things in the game and the things that don’t come overally natural to him.
“I think he’s been exceptional in those things and he’s worked incredibly hard in the environment to improve those things because he’s incredibly talented. Seán does things on the field that very few hookers can do and full credit to him for how he’s knuckled down to work on those things in his game.”
One man’s misfortune, and all that, in this case the immensely likeable Strauss. “It’s terrible that Richardt had to have a spell out of the game,” says Cronin genuinely, “but I saw it as an opportunity as Matt said that we sat down at the start of the year and looked at a few things for me to work on . . . So now I’ve had the opportunity to do that which is great . . . from my point of view there’s nothing better than getting a run of games. I’m sure we’ll be back to sharing the game time.”
In the heel of the hunt though, such has been Cronin’s form that he goes into an Ireland camp on Sunday evening assuredly competing harder to be his country’s first-choice hooker that any stage in his career.