WHEN NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS come to Ireland, eager provincial hopefuls must go into training overdrive.
The Welsh side, who have finished in the bottom half of the league for six years in succession, are often used by the Irish provinces as an opening test of their mettle.
19 players, across the four provinces, have made their league bows against Dragons and, this season, JJ Hanrahan became the latest.
The out-half, 20, made his first outing for the senior side against La Rochelle pre-season but featured competitively as a 73rd minute replacement for Ronan O’Gara in the 33-13 victory.
Interviewed for the Munster Rugby website, Hanrahan declared that his first taste of Pro12 action has left him wanting more.
I was a little bit nervous at the start, when the squad was announced,” he said, “but Rob (Penney) and Simon (Mannix) are really positive and give you loads of encouragement.
Hanrahan was not fazed at the prospect of replacing O’Gara, a player who has scored more than 2,400 points in Munster red.
“Maybe if the game wasn’t won it would be a lot tougher,” he reasoned, “because you have to fill his boots, which would be a big ask.
“But it was won so I just went on and wanted to play my own game of rugby.”
Under 20 talisman
Hanrahan was a star performer for the Irish Under 20s in South Africa during the summer and was nominated as one of the Junior World Championship’s top three players after helping his side to a fifth place finish.
During the summer tour to New Zealand, TheScore.ie asked Ireland coach Declan Kidney if the strong performances from the likes of Hanrahan and Leinster’s Conor Gilsenan could lead to a fast-track advancement to the senior set-up. He said:
“Obviously, any guy that puts his hand up in a big tournament like that (would be considered). I think Jamie Heaslip was in that situation a few years back and it was Mr (Jerome) Kaino that got the award at the end of the day.” Kidney added:
All players will tell you that awards, it is nice to be a part of that but it is nicer to be part of a winning team. JJ would be the first to admit that, usually, anybody playing in the number 10 role goes as well as the people around him allow him to go.
“The fact that he has shown himself to good effect can only benefit Irish rugby. But then, Paddy Jackson will be looking for his place back at that level too. It is a good sign for the future.”
Hanrahan is training with the Munster squad at the University of Limerick this week and will be hoping for inclusion in the match-day 22 to take on Leinster at the Aviva on Saturday.