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12th Jan 2019

Sean Cronin smashes the super sub myth once and for all

Jack O'Toole

There’s been a theory surrounding Sean Cronin’s career that he’s better served off the bench.

That his speed, that his dynamism, his energy is better served in the last 20 minutes when a team is tired and beginning to fall off tackles.

Cronin is a very worrying sight to see coming off the Leinster bench, as is Andrew Porter, Jack McGrath, Jamison Gibson-Park and any number of useful players that the European and PRO14 champions have been able to call upon over the last few seasons.

Unfortunately for Cronin he’s had to contend with two-time British & Irish Lion Rory Best for the entirety of his international career but this season the Limerick native has shown beyond doubt that he’s capable of playing and excelling as a starter.

Cronin was excellent on Saturday against Toulouse and set the tone in the first-half with a brilliant tackle and turnover.

The 32-year-old has been prone to fly out of the line in an attempt to shut down the ball carrier and it doesn’t always come off for him.

Cronin lost two teeth in an attempted tackle on Exeter’s Don Armand last season, and while that particular tackle may have increased his dental bills, it’s his willingness to get up and make a play for his team that just jumps off the screen.

The other major trait with Cronin has been his ability to score tries from just about anywhere on the paddock.

Short, long, no defenders, multiple defenders, the Leinster rake has always had a nose for the line and this season has been no different.

Cronin has nine tries in 12 games this season and touched down again on Saturday from close range.

He’s scored eight tries in nine starts and it’s a remarkable turnaround from the hooker who was left off Ireland’s November international squad in 2017.

Cronin admitted that he wasn’t playing well at the start of last season but that his omission was actually beneficial to his career.

“At the start of the season I wasn’t playing well. I was coming back from injury, I wasn’t fit. I got left out of Joe Schmidt’s November squad, which I think in hindsight now was really good for me,” Cronin explained.

“It was probably the kick up the arse I needed at the time to refocus and it gave me a chance to play here [Leinster]. You have those ups and downs. I think I’m probably on a bit of an up now, which is good.”

Here we are over a year later and not only does Cronin belong to be in the squad but there’s an argument to be made that he’s starting to put pressure on the evergreen Best.

It’s unlikely that a Dylan Hartley-Jamie George situation will develop at Carton House but Cronin is arguably playing some of the best rugby of his career after a difficult period.

Age should eventually start to catch up with him at some stage, as it does with all great players, but for now Cronin is firing on all cylinders and it’s a joy to watch.

And with the Six Nations around the corner and the twilight of Best’s career in full effect, it could not come at a more perfect time.

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