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Wednesday 19 September 2018

Cronin sights on Six Nations call

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Leinster’s Sean Cronin talks to the press yesterday. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Leinster’s Sean Cronin talks to the press yesterday. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

By November, Sean Cronin's stock on the international market had plummeted faster than a stone in Irish water.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt chose Rory Best, Rob Herring and James Tracy ahead of the Limerick man for the extended squad.

Adding injury to insult, Niall Scannell, the perceived second choice in the position, was outside the wire due to surgery on his thumb.

The 31-year-old last played for Ireland for four short minutes against Australia back in November 2016.

It meant Cronin had to contemplate how he had sank from Best's back-up to the fifth best on the roster one year on, in a position not exactly bulging with world-class options.

The door has not yet been reopened, leaving the possibility those four minutes could be the last of his career in green.

Injury

"I haven't spoken to him (Joe Schmidt) since November," said Cronin. "At the time, it was just that he thought that I didn't hit the ground running at the start of the season which was probably fair enough and other guys had played well.

"I felt that I was coming back from being out basically for nine months with injury.

"I had my hamstring and then I had my neck. I probably wasn't given much wiggle-room. But, I probably didn't hit the ground running.

"That's what was said to me. There wasn't anything else in the conversation."

Since then, Cronin has made improvements, playing his way into good form, if not quite great form.

He is long enough in the tooth to know there is more to do to force his way back into the Six Nations conversation.

The honest assessment from Schmidt and Cronin's personal drive to add to his 56 international caps had the desired effect.

"The only good thing was that that (November) bloc gave me a chance to get a bit fitter, which I did.

"It gave me a chance to get some game-time with Leinster against the Dragons, Treviso and that got me ready and got me in for the Champions Cup games.

"It had its positives. It gave me a bit of a kick that I needed."

Limiting

The only outcome directly within Cronin's control is to win the head-to-head against Tracy at Leinster.

In this regard, he forced the issue back in his favour for the back-to-back matches against the Exeter Chiefs in the European Cup. He started both of them, limiting Tracy to an impact role from the wood.

The experienced hooker has known his share of disappointment making his way around three of the provinces.

Cronin has done enough to convince Leo Cullen he has got some of his mojo back.

That must give him a degree of confidence that could carry over into the Six Nations, even tough he has to come from a very long way back.

Schmidt is not totally convinced just yet as Cronin did not receive a coveted invitation to Carton House.

"We'll see what happens," he admitted.

"I need to try and play well again in the next few weeks and see if I can get back in contention.

"My phone is always on, if he wants me back in. We'll see what happens, I suppose."

There is a stretch of two inter-provincials and two Champions Cup matches in which to press his case.

It all begins with his former club Connacht at the RDS on New Year's Day.

Faded

While the sting of moving from one to the other in 2011 has faded with time, it still holds special significance for Cronin.

"There are still a few lads knocking around down there that were there when I was," he said.

"Sure, all these interpro derbies are competitive and great to play in."

The competition for places was reflected in the wholesale changes made by Cullen for Munster, the magnitude of the performance moving the spotlight to perform back onto those stepping up on Monday.

"I heard Leo said at the weekend because there were 12 changes, a lot of these guys coming in, you saw what it meant to them to get that big opportunity.

"A lot of us will come back in now after the huge performance to play against Connacht in a huge interpro at home."

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