Stringer still full of ambition and drive to carry on


Leinster consistently churn out world-class scrumhalves, but the patent on number nines now lies with Munster, writes GAVIN CUMMISKEY

THE CURIOUS case of Irish scrumhalves. Leinster consistently churn out world-class three-quarters – as proved by the slick manner they coped with Shane Horgan’s retirement in recent months – but the patent on number nines belongs to Munster.

There isn’t even a Cork/Limerick divide on this issue.

Eoin Reddan and Conor Murray are the incumbents in Leinster and Munster respectively this season, with Tomás O’Leary due to start in Murray’s injury-enforced absence on Saturday evening at Thomond Park. Murray hyper-extended his right knee against France on March 4th but is expected to come good for the visit of Ulster to Thomond Park on Sunday week.

There was also news last Tuesday that O’Leary’s imminent departure to London Irish has revived the flagging career of the great Peter Stringer. The 34-year-old took up a one-year deal with his home province that will eventually release him from the current tour of English Premiership clubs; after spinning away behind a big Saracens pack, he debuts for Newcastle Falcons against Tony Buckley’s Sale Sharks tomorrow night.

Safely back in the Munster fold come summer, it means Stringer’s glimmer of hope of making the 100-cap milestone for Ireland still flickers. “To get to 100 caps would be nice and it would be nice to even get beyond that,” he said.

“Playing for your country is a massive honour for anybody. Playing in last season’s Six Nations has spurred me on to continue playing rugby at the highest level. They are the games that you want to play in as they are in front of 80,000 people.

“I am full of ambition and drive to go on and continue to play at international level.”

With Reddan and Murray from Limerick, Stringer and O’Leary are both from Cork stock, as is Connacht’s first-choice scrumhalf Frank Murphy, who continues to hold off Leinster exiles Paul O’Donohoe and Dave Moore.

That pair were forced away due to the arrival of Isaac Boss from Ulster and, of course, Reddan, whose journey back to his native Limerick this weekend is a circuitous one. Connacht was his first professional contract in 2001 then two seasons in Stringer’s shadow (2003-’05) before Shaun Edwards noticed something in that snappy service to make him a Wasp, where he succeeded Matt Dawson.

European and Premiership medals were banked before Leinster offered him a new home in Dublin and greater access to the Test arena.

Reddan was out in the city sunshine yesterday launching a new astroturf pitch in John Scottus National School on Northumberland Road, where his wife works, which has been redeveloped with sponsorship from the nearby Aviva Stadium, Dublin City Council, parents and a local donor.

He will always be associated with Wasps and Leinster, having never nailed down a starting role in his home town, but he is still a Limerick man. “Yeah, absolutely from a sporting career, but I am still proud of where I am from so that’s why you get a lot of close friends going to the game, which is good,” said Reddan

He was asked about the latest instalment of Irish rugby’s Old Firm. It’s no secret that both teams use this biannual fixture as a means to brace themselves for the trauma of European rugby.

“People don’t talk about it for some reason but Munster have to be probably favourites for the Heineken Cup. The performance in Northampton was excellent. While it might not be acknowledged I think from a player’s point of view that’s the way it would be. So it is obviously a very daunting task this weekend,” said Reddan.

“No matter who wins this game there is no trophy on the table. Both teams can recover from it over the next few weeks but we are entering a period of the season that is a tipping point and you want to be going into that at your best,” he added.

How will O’Leary, with his naturally abrasive approach, cope with those Premiership backrows?

“He is a great player. He obviously feels his best opportunity is London Irish; they are a good club. I think he will enjoy the Premiership. Week in, week out it is quite full on, he will enjoy the competitiveness of that. I think it will go well for him,” said Reddan.

“Tomás knows his own mind but he asked me about London. It’s a good spot, especially for playing rugby around that area. Knowing Tomás he’ll make the most of it.”