Speed king Cronin constantly ‘nit picking’ to improve all-round game

HIS BRILLIANT BURST of pace to cut from 22 to try-line, out-stripping Willie Le Roux along the way, ensured Leinster were firmly on the front foot in their Heineken Champions Cup defence even before Lima Sopoaga was sent to the sin-bin last Friday.

But Sean Cronin didn’t arrive to training this week in self-satisfied mood.

“This morning,” scrum coach John Fogarty recounted on Monday, “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.’”

Polishing up; Cronin in training in Donnybrook this week. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The powerful Leinster hooker doesn’t come across as someone who is up-tight or needs much unwinding when it comes to down time, but his outward easy-going side is easily peeled away when it’s time for work. 

Too much so, noted Fogarty:

“I (then) have to say: ‘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.”

Once the page was turned, Fogarty and Leo Cullen will have immersed themselves in line-out footage, poring over the five throws lost during the landslide win over the Premiership side.

Fogarty knows well that the hooker will shoulder the majority of the burden for any mis-firing line-out, but the technicians in the second row are always eager to offer analysis from their point of view.

“I know he got done for a couple of crooked ones at the weekend,” says Devin Toner before alluding to a renewed emphasis from officials around positioning of the hooker and the gap between line-outs as a factor in the errors.

“We had a different kind of setup. A new thing has been set into the reps to look a lot more at the gaps and the lines. Our process wasn’t as good as it could have been at the weekend.”

Toner labels the Limerick man “obviously one of the best hookers in Europe,” but Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has not always reflected that status upon Cronin.

Cronin carrying John Ryan as Ireland trained in Sydney. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Last November, he was omitted from the international squad while James Tracy and Rob Herring deputised for Rory Best. In Best’s absence in Australia, Herring was preferred in the starting jersey for the opening Test and the Ulsterman earned a replacement berth behind Niall Scannell when the series was turned Ireland’s way.

Those summer tour frustrations seemed to come down to the weight Cronin’s rivals could offer towards the scrummaging effort. Competition will be fierce for every squad between now and the 2019 World Cup. However, neither Leinster or Cronin are of a mind to change his physical makeup and risk diminishing the incredible bursts of pace and power that have left fleet-footed backs burned off and embarrassed by a charging ‘Nugget’.

Cronin breaks for his first-half try against Wasps. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“A player like Sean is experienced. He will have his say in how he wants to play the game,” says Fogarty.

“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.

“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…”

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“I think he’s world class. He’s very frustrated now. He nit-picks over everything, obsesses over his game. That’s the way it should be playing that position, you have to obsess, (because) when the line-out doesn’t function you’re the first guy who’ll get blamed.”

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud