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Leinster v Ulster: Sean Cronin is eager to face Irish rival Rory Best

by Jonathan Bradley

If not for the sizeable presence of Rory Best over the years, you can be sure that considerably more than eight of Sean Cronin's 48 Ireland appearances would have come in a starter's jersey, but the Leinster hooker is not out to prove a point when his side lock horns with Ulster at the RDS on Friday night.

The former Connacht man has proven to be a more than able deputy for Ireland's most-capped No.2 in recent seasons, his ability with ball in hand the perfect late game complement to Best's solidity in the scrum and work-rate at the breakdown, and it was a similar story during Ireland's ill-fated World Cup campaign.

Despite the disappointing quarter-final exit to Argentina, Best displayed stellar form in the green jersey with Cronin left to come on for the 33-year-old in the first three pool games, including a try-scoring cameo against Canada, before ultimately losing his bench spot to provincial colleague Richardt Strauss.

With both men expected to start in Dublin, and come very much head to head at scrum-time, Cronin could be forgiven for entering the inter-pro with an added edge but he insists it's a case of business as usual.

"I'm in the mindset that I'm going up against a quality, quality player," he said yesterday at the launch of a new initiative by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland.

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"It's pitting yourself against the top players and seeing how you come out afterwards. I've been playing with Rory in the Ireland set-up for the last few years and I know what he can bring; he's a fabulous player.

"I think I have my own attributes as well that I hope I can bring to the game on Friday and influence it.

"He's a top quality player and you like to see if you come out on top at the end of the 80 minutes. He was probably Ulster's best player against Saracens so he's in good form and I think Ulster are in good form as well.

"That was a funny game. It just seemed to get away from them towards the end. I think they are all in good form and Rory is no different."

On their very differing double-act at Test level, he added: "I like to get into the game and get some ball carrying going. I can also bring a bit of bite around the tackle area.

"Rory has his strengths in and around the scrum and his fabulous work at the breakdown for Ulster, himself and Chris Henry, so we have different attributes but I suppose that's what makes it interesting."

Like Ulster, Leinster suffered disappointment in Europe last weekend - Leo Cullen's men were on the wrong side of a close game against Bath at the Rec on Saturday - but having also lost at home to Wasps six days earlier, and with Toulon home and away to come next month, their situation in the Champions Cup is even more perilous than their northern neighbours.

What's more for Cronin and his tight-five cohorts is that 16 of Bath's 19 points came via Leinster's scrum after a converted penalty try and three penalties.

Come Friday, they are out to re-establish the quality that saw six of their front-rowers in Ireland's World Cup squad.

"It's a challenging time, there's no point in lying about it. It's a very challenging time," he said.

"We're confident in the coaches and we're confident in the players that we have. We're hoping to get a good performance on Friday and keep our place in the league.

"We've got to address the problems. We didn't give our team a launch off our set-piece at all in the game. We have to cop it on the chin this week in terms of our analysis and say that it wasn't good enough. We had a good sit down and a chat about what we want to do going forward and address a couple of the problems that we had.

"We got dominated at the scrum and it's something that we have to address. There's no better opportunity in going up against a good pack and a well-led scrum on Friday in a derby match. That will be a big test for us."

After their own struggles at the set-piece against Saracens, you can be sure that the same message has been echoed by Best in the Kingspan Stadium this week.

Sean Cronin was speaking at the RDS yesterday for the launch of 'Rugby Memories', a new initiative with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) which is one of two charity partners to Leinster Rugby this season.

Rugby Memories is run by The ASI and supported by Leinster Rugby and uses old photographs and memorabilia to trigger recollections from the past in fans and former players affected by dementia.

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