Connacht’s John Muldoon and Sean Cronin are set to fulfil a rugby player’s great ambition, to play against the New Zealand All Blacks.
Selected this week on Declan Kidney’s Irish XV, Muldoon and Cronin will line out at the Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Saturday - 8.35am Irish time.
It is a huge moment for the two Connacht players. Although Ireland's lengthy injury list has helped propel both Cronin and Muldoon to the starting XV, both grabbed the chance against the Barbarians last week to nail down their places.
Connacht coach Eric Elwood, who has been in touch with both players in New Zealand, was among the first to congratulate them.
“The two thoroughly deserved their selection and I was not surprised. John’s performance against the Barbarians was super - his defence, ball carrying skills, offloads, passing, and his work rate. I knew he would definitely be in the 22, but it was no surprise when he was selected to start.
“I think Sean would have been a little disappointed with the two or three line-outs that went astray against the Barbarians, but his ability around the pitch is strong.”
Although both players already have a couple of Irish caps, Saturday’s game represents a totally different test arena.
“ They will not have played in a game like it - facing the haka at the start - and the huge intensity,” Elwood says. “ It will certainly require a step-up in physicality and pace, but they are well able for it.
“ I have never doubted their ability to compete at this level, and once they do their preparations, it will be important to get into the game as soon as they can.”
Elwood has told the players to concentrate on their own games.
“It’s all about playing their own game. They are part of a cog and, if they do their own job well, then that’s all they can do.”
Elwood believes their selection to the starting XV, in addition to Gavin Duffy’s late call-up to the tour, are a huge boost - and recognition - for the province.
“We want to be one of four provinces and we want to contribute to the Irish team. It’s not rocket science that we can give players, who make that choice, a massive opportunity. These guys are getting exposure in the Magners League and in Europe. We have Ian Keatley, Fionn Carr and Jamie Hagan who are recognised by the national management, and now John and Sean are reaping the reward. It is all positive.”
The two Connacht players are receiving widespread international media attention since their selection. Cronin (24 ) has cited his move to Connacht as critical.
"I moved up there to try and get some game time because I was behind the likes of Jerry Flannery and Frankie Sheehan when I was at Munster, so I wasn't getting much game time or exposure. It's worked out very well. I've got a lot of game time up there and pushed my way in here. It's been a good move for me."
Both acknowledge Saturday’s test will be a massive challenge.
Said Cronin: “ It's going to be a huge test for me coming up against a world-class hooker like Keven Mealamu. I'm looking forward to it. After the game you can sit down and judge yourself against these top-quality players."
Said Muldoon: “ Obviously it's going be a special occasion to be selected for your country to play against the All Blacks. At this stage Saturday can't come quick enough.”