JJ Hanrahan delivers in first start as Munster outhalf
‘Hanrahan is a big game player and it’s been great to have him back,’ says O’Mahony
Munster’s JJ Hanrahan celebrates scoring his side’s third try against Castres at Thomond Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
This was a big day in the career of JJ Hanrahan and a long time coming. Shortlisted for the Under-20 World Player of the Year all of six years ago, this was the Currow native’s 93rd game for Munster and his 22nd for them in the Heineken Champions Cup, yet it was his first start at outhalf.
On 19 of his previous 21 appearances for Munster in the competition Hanrahan wore the number 22 jersey and in his only two previous starts he was at inside centre. That he was only afforded this opportunity was due to Joey Carbery being withdrawn yesterday morning due to a tight hamstring.
He’s already demonstrated his mental strength on numerous occasions, not least this season when overcoming a knock-on behind his own try line against Glasgow before he was withdrawn four minutes into the second half.
In the process, he has effectively become Munster’s second choice outhalf. Not a bad achievement given there are five of them.
Here Hanrahan delivered handsomely, finishing off Munster’s best move for the try of the game and landing six kicks from six for a personal haul of 20 points. In his second season after a two-year sojourn in Northampton, this was probably his most rewarding day in Munster’s red.
“He’s made some big decisions in his career and he’s headed away from the place we all love and he’s come back to us and he’s been unbelievable since he’s come back,” said Peter O’Mahony afterwards.
“He’s been asked to play in a couple of different positions and it’s been difficult at times for him but there’s been huge strength of character there. You see a guy who wasn’t in during the week and step in and perform like that, it’s the biggest test of all; to come in late like that. It’s difficult to do and to perform like that it’s a huge positive in his character. He’s a big game player and it’s been great to have him back in the last couple of months.”
Hanrahan’s performance was also hailed by his coach Johann van Graan, who has the task of somehow trying to keep all five of their outhalves content, albeit Hanrahan’s versatility is an additional string to his bow.
“I think that’s the beauty of our squad. We’ve got good competition and we’ve got a saying that ‘we don’t compete against each, we compete with each other’ and that’s the beauty of sport. If one guy takes an opening you’ve got to take it, and I think he did.”
“That being said, we’ve got five quality outhalves in our squad. ‘Keats’ isn’t even making the squad at this stage and he’s a quality flyhalf. I thought Bill Johnston took his opportunities in the last couple of weeks and then you’ve got Tyler [Bleyendaal] coming back from a big injury that’s improving every week.
“So it’s brilliant to have five flyhalves available and you need all of them, and competition in a squad is healthy, and we know that we’re going to need 50 guys throughout the season. Today was a very good example of it, the next guy in and you’ve got to step up and perform.”
In particular, van Graan was “very happy with his game management. We knew beforehand, we said all week that if you play too much rugby in your own half, then you’re going to get punished. He varied our play very well. I thought him and Conor together with Mikey [Haley] and Rory [Scannell] – our main decision makers – put us in the right areas of the field.”
“Our scrum did pretty well to put pressure on them and our line-out contesting – they didn’t get any scrum or line-out base until late in the game and that went a long way to helping us win the game.”
Along with the composed manner Hanrahan stepped in for his first European Cup start at outhalf.