Belfast Telegraph

I believed in myself after being left out by Ireland, says record-breaker Cronin

 

By David Kelly

While Leinster may have completed an historic campaign for Irish provincial rugby by landing a first trophy double, their hooker Sean Cronin also celebrated a notable personal landmark in Saturday's Guinness PRO14 final.

And it may prove to be the catalyst for the Limerick native to elbow his way into Joe Schmidt's Irish plans for the first Test against Australia in Brisbane on Saturday week, seven months after being exiled from the November international squad.

When Cronin crossed for Leinster's third try, effectively sealing victory when Jonathan Sexton's expertly drawn conversion put his side 28-11 up in the 52nd minute, the 32-year-old leapfrogged a clutch of notables to claim a unique record.

Apart from Cronin himself in 2012 and 2016, only four other players had ever scored tries in separate finals before this season - Leinster predecessors Gordon D'Arcy ('01 & '14) and Shane Jennings ('13 & '14), as well as Irish team-mate and Munster wing Keith Earls ('11 & '17) and DTH van der Merwe ('15 & '17).

Cronin, by scoring in his third final, now stands apart.

"It's been an unbelievable season," said Cronin.

Also unbelievable - for some, at least - was his absence from the November series before he resumed his now habitual Six Nations residency on the bench for Ireland's Grand Slam.

However, with Schmidt likely to freshen up his team in the second Test, Cronin could be one of those players ear-marking a possible role from the beginning.

"You have to take the lows and you've got to look at how you can bounce back," said Cronin, who has started just nine of his 61 appearances in a green shirt.

"So that's all I did. I saw what Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster wanted from me here, and what was required from all the coaching staff to get up to speed, and they've had a bit of faith in me.

"That's all you can do, try and work your socks off if you're left out of a squad. Don't sulk. Work as hard as you can and believe in yourself."

The coterie of Leinster double-winners will also be on hand to boost Irish confidence ahead of the trip, particularly given the dreadful form of Australia's own provincial players in their Super Rugby efforts this season.

"A lot of those lads will come in outside of Leinster thirsty for more success as well off the back of the Grand Slam," he said. "And it will be a good mix. We're going to come in and try and add value, and add a bit of success there.

"Joe has his own way of doing stuff, so we'll have to get up to speed and put this to bed."

Meanwhile, Siya Kolisi will become South Africa's first black Test captain in next month's series against England.

The 26-year-old, who is also skipper of his provincial side the Stormers, has won 28 caps since making his debut in 2013.

Chiliboy Ralepelle was the first black player to lead the Springboks, but that honour was claimed in a non-cap international in 2006.

South Africa's Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has also named Pieter-Steph du Toit as captain for Saturday's clash with Wales in Washington.

He said: "It's a huge honour to captain the Springboks and Siya and Pieter-Steph are two honest, hard working men.

"I believe both of them will do a good job as captains."

Belfast Telegraph

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