Leinster and Cronin not resting on their laurels

‘He’s frustrated. He obsesses over his game . . . that’s the way it should be,’ says coach

 Leinster’s Sean Cronin scoring a try against Wasps in the province’s 52-3 win in their Champions Cup opener at the RDS last Friday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Leinster’s Sean Cronin scoring a try against Wasps in the province’s 52-3 win in their Champions Cup opener at the RDS last Friday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

It all starts again this week. Leinster’s exacting zero-sum game, the tyrant that drives them to iron out the kinks, strip away the flaws. All towards some place of perfection they will never reach.

A weekend was long enough to admire last Friday’s work and yesterday it seemed the players were mildly fearful of dwelling on eight opening tries against Wasps. There is never nothing to improve.

So it was on Monday morning when Sean Cronin parked his car in UCD. He walked over to the Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty and with a note of urgency spoke about the Leinster line-out.

The Ireland hooker, stung from Friday night’s wrinkle in the set piece, wished to put it right. He chose to shelve his pick and run from outside the Wasps 22 that spoke to the fans as it has always done.

Like a well worn record nobody gets tired of hearing, Cronin spinning his wheels like no other hooker and destroying a defensive line with not a Wasps hand feeling the fabric of his shirt. It was oddly heart warming.

But Cronin’s preoccupation and frustration had carried over. He was consumed by a few crooked throws.

“He’s very frustrated. He nitpicks over everything, obsesses over his game,” says former hooker and Leinster coach Fogarty. “That’s the way it should be. Playing that position, you have to obsess.

Blamed

“When the line-out doesn’t function you’re the first guy who’ll get blamed.

“When I met him this morning walking out of his car the first thing he said to me was, ‘We need to look at the line-out, can we speed this up, we need to look at the process, we need to throw on Tuesday’.

“Sometimes that’s what players do. When he finishes the game he is almost thinking, ‘Jesus, we missed three or four line-outs and I threw two crooked. I overthrew one’.”

It has long been known that Cronin’s pace can match many of the backline players. His first few strides of acceleration in a game of ever-diminishing breaking opportunities gives him fractions of time.

On Friday it was right to left after he scooped the ball from a bundle of bodies and backed himself. He’s done it before and last season left Ospreys outhalf Dan Biggar on a similar chase of shame.

Five minutes into the Wasps game Cronin blew past outhalf Lima Sopoaga, ghosted away from flanker Thomas Young, outpaced number eight Nizaam Carr, made the line before right wing Josh Bassett could cover with fullback Willie Le Roux at a stretch tapping his boot and taking some polish but all too little too late.

“I have to say [to Sean], ‘okay, one step at a time now’. It’s about clearing our heads, turning the page, seeing what was good about Wasps and what we need to do better.

“That’s what today is about. We will turn the page today and understanding Toulouse is the most important thing for us now.”

Cronin has changed his emphasis. He is understudy to Rory Best at national level but benefits from being a uniquely different style of player.

Scrummaging ability

But during the Irish tour last June it was suggested he may be a little light in the set piece and was overlooked by Irish coach Joe Schmidt for the second Test side to play Australia.

At the time Schmidt pointed to Niall Scannell’s scrummaging ability as the chief reason behind his promotion to the team as Best had missed the tour because of injury.

Still, it came as a surprise to many that a dangerous player like Cronin would be omitted for the critical if more prosaic reason of providing grunt in the set piece.

“There are targets but a player like Sean is experienced,” says Fogarty. “He will have his say in how he wants to play the game. He has probably reassessed how he wants to play. He is dynamic and quick and he has got his body to a place now where he feels comfortable that he can play past 60 minutes and that’s what they wanted him to do, to push past 60-70 minutes.

“We’ve never had huge issues around his weight so it is pretty clear in his head what shape he wants to be in. That is all controlled by the S&C guys. You figure what you are good at and not so good at with age and he is starting to do that. He wasn’t happy with a few things at the moment but, ah, he’ll be okay.”

Devin Toner calls Cronin one of the best hookers in Europe. Fogarty says world class. Yet here he is fretting. A Limerick man in the bosom of Ballsbridge in a struggle to please himself.

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