JJ Hanrahan still leading the way for Munster outhalves
Stephen Larkham hails number 10’s ability to handle pressure after win in France
Munster’s JJ Hanrahan lines up a kick during the Champions Cup match against Clermont. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Alone it stands, a famous victory at Stade Marcel-Michelin. A night that will forever belong to the Kerry outhalf and a young prop from west Cork.
JJ Hanrahan has shouldered greater expectation than any Munster 10 since Ronan O’Gara. Others – Tyler Bleyendaal then Joey Carbery and now Ben Healy – have arrived with enough pedigree to oust him from the jersey.
Injury kept interrupting the idea of letting Hanrahan play second fiddle or not at all. Stephen Larkham, the Wallaby superstar turned Munster attack coach, spoke earlier this year about Hanrahan’s ability to handle pressure on the field as “something that I don’t see in a lot of players.”
Not a word of a lie was being told. The 28-year-old engineered this exhilarating, Lazarus-like recovery from 21-6 and 28-9 arrears with a kicking return not seen since La Rochelle’s current coach laced up that cultured right boot.
Twenty-four points, nine from nine kicks at goal – six penalties and three conversions – sketches the picture of Hanrahan’s steadiest and most essential performance of his chequered career.
“Phenomenal goal-kicking,” was Munster coach Johann van Graan’s description and “the stuff of dreams” for how Josh Wycherley scrummed his way into the light.
Healy is still expected to glide past Hanrahan in 2021 and while the whispers about Jake Flannery and Jack Crowley grow louder, none of them can boast a game to match this masterpiece in Clermont. JJ, after all these years, has provided the gold standard for the underlings to aim towards.
Hanrahan miscues have previously raised concerns about Van Graan’s tenure in Munster. Nine times these doubts must have flickered into his consciousness. Nine times Larkham’s faith in him prevailed. The ninth, to convert Kevin O’Byrne’s late try for an eight-point lead, colours the entire campaign in a positive light.
“It was a big pressure kick and he’s missed some over the last year but the good thing about JJ is he kept going and he wanted those kicks and he converted that one tonight,” said Van Graan. “Really happy for him.
“A few times we had the opportunity to go to touch and we decided we were going to keep going [with kicks at goal] and the very last one, we said let’s go to the corner, if we score this and kick it over with three minutes to go the game is out of sight.
“So phenomenal goal kicking from JJ.”