Tag Archives: JJ Hanrahan


Ian Madigan

Ian Madigan in Leinster colours. (c) Martin Dobey.

One of the more interesting head-to-heads during last month’s Pro 12 final was that at inside centre. While neither Ian Madigan nor Stuart Olding had a decisive impact on the outcome of that particular game, their futures in the position hold exciting possibilities for Irish rugby. Alongside JJ Hanrahan at Munster, these young players offer something different to the common concept of an inside centre.

The traditional view is that a 12 is someone to get your team over the advantage line, a big man who runs direct lines and takes out a few defenders. Jamie Roberts of Wales and Munster’s James Downey are fine examples of this ‘classic’ inside centre. These guys are 6ft 4ins and weigh around 110kg. While they are expected to offload out of the tackle, their main role is to get their team onto the front foot.

The trio of Olding (20), Madigan (24) and Hanrahan (20) come from an altogether different mould. Physically they are remarkably similar, standing at roughly 5ft 11ins and weighing around 90kg. In modern rugby, where giants like George North roam in wide spaces, these young Irish backs are a refreshing blast from the past.

It’s not really an issue of size here though, rather the different strengths that these talented youngsters offer. All three are versatile. Madigan has started at 10, 12 and 15 for Leinster. Olding has played at 10 and 12 for Ulster, but has experience at 13 and 15 at underage level. Hanrahan has been picked for Munster at 10 and 12. He too has the tools to play 15.

These are multi-skilled, complete players. What it means is that when they line out at 12 for their provinces, they offer a broad range of abilities outside the traditional role of a bosh merchant. All three are excellent playmakers. They share passing skills, vision, awareness of space and the ability to beat defenders with footwork rather than pure brawn.

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Hanrahan on debut for Munster this season. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

The development of the role of the inside centre is not confined to Ireland. At Toulon, the Australian Matt Giteau is the attacking playmaker in their backline. He too has a versatile past, having played 10, 12 and even 9 at the highest level. The positioning of a creative player at inside centre is popular in the Southern Hemisphere, where the 12 is often referred to as the ‘second-five-eighth’.

The perceived downside of having a smaller man at inside centre is a physical disadvantage. Of the trio highlighted here, Olding is probably the most effective ball carrier in traffic. His balance and footwork mean he is rarely smashed. But as Madigan showed on Saturday, he is more than willing to bash it up the middle when that’s required. Defensively, all three players are brave and make their tackles.

The positioning of Hanrahan and Madigan in the centre this season has to some extent been a case of needs must. With Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton owning the outhalf positions at provincial level, the youngsters have had to fit in elsewhere. Next season, Madigan will be wearing 10 for Leinster, but Sexton will continue to block his way with the Ireland team.

At Munster, Ian Keatley will expect to be next in line at outhalf. For Ulster, Paddy Jackson looks being the number 10 for years to come.  Olding will also have to compete with Luke Marshall, another who had a superb season. But moving forward, there is real value in keeping Madigan, Olding and Hanrahan at ‘second-five-eighth’.

Ireland is blessed with a stockpile of strike-running talent out wide at the moment. The likes of Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy, Rob Kearney, Andrew Conway and Luke Fitzgerald need the ball in their hands as often as possible. With a distributing 12 on the pitch, the possibilities are thrilling.

Not only do Madigan, Hanrahan and Olding offer the passing game to get the ball wide quickly, they also possess the subtle vision and sleight of hand to slip these runners into gaps when they roam infield.

Whether through fluke or foresight, the Irish provinces have developed the role of the inside centre this season. The attacking variations that could result under Joe Schmidt are hugely exciting for Irish rugby.

Olding and Madigan are in North America with Ireland at the moment, where it looks as though Madigan will be seen as an outhalf. Strangely, Hanrahan isn’t in the Emerging Ireland squad for the Tbilisi Cup. Perhaps a big pre-season awaits?


Photos: Ivan O’Riordan, Martin Dobey.

Wolfpuppies Show Grit


The Ireland U20s opened their Junior World Championship campaign with an incredible 23-19 win over hosts South Africa yesterday. The ‘Wolfpuppies’ put in a phenomenal defensive effort, with both of their tries coming from blocked-down South African kicks. Irish captain Niall Scannell summed it up neatly for us in his post-match interview when he said that the Irish focus in the build-up had been on early, low tackles followed by other defenders getting in over the ball.

Ireland were excellent at the breakdown, and put that plan into perfect effect. The Baby Boks became extremely frustrated with the Irish side’s eagerness to compete at every ruck. The number of turnovers in Ireland’s favour at the breakdown was truly decisive. When the hosts did manage to get through a few phases, they scored their solitary try through Lions lock Paul Willemse. That period of pressure aside, Mike Ruddock’s Irish team managed to make the South Africans possession very scrappy.

There were some promising individual displays too for the Irish. JJ Hanrahan at outhalf maintained his cool throughout. His decision to pop over a drop-goal in the 56th minute to put Ireland 16-10 in front was particularly impressive. Similarly, his scything line-break in the first-half showed his awareness, as well a sharp turn of pace. The Kerryman will hope that New Zealand U20 and new Munster coach Rob Penney was watching the game, as his performance will have greatly impressed.


Irish U20s captain Niall Scannell (diving for ball) in Dolphin colours. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Tadhg Furlong at tighthead was immense in locking out the Irish scrum. Opposite him at loosehead for the Boks was Steven Kitshoff, already first-choice for the Stomers, who are 2nd in the overall Super Rugby table. But Furlong was the winner of their battle. Apart from one occasion late in the second-half, the Irish dealt capably with the South African scrum. Furlong played a vital role. As highlighted by the Demented Mole, the Wexford man is a serious prospect.

Iain Henderson burst onto the scene with this try against Munster last month. The Ulster man put in a superb shift yesterday evening from the second-row. He has played plenty of rugby at 6, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a real physical presence and has a massive engine. He never let up against the Baby Boks. Again, the Mole picked Henderson out as one to watch, and was not mistaken. There’s a real shade of Stephen Ferris in Henderson and we’ll certainly be seeing more of him next season for Ulster.

Picking out three individual players is probably not fair though, as this was a concentrated team effort from Ireland. Their willingness to throw their bodies into every collision was unwavering. Ruddock clearly had instilled the belief into his side that they could win this game. That was evident in the way Ireland came back from a shaky start, when it looked like the Boks might become dominant. We saw a few short passages of attacking cutting-edge from Ireland which bodes well, but this win was all about the physical side of the game.


Hopefully the senior Irish squad took in the game, because the effort from the U20s was inspirational. This must count as one of the best-ever wins for Ireland at any underage level. Beating South Africa anywhere at this level is special, but to do so in their own back yard adds another dimension. Ireland now turn their focus to the match against England on Friday. The English ran in 9 tries in a 64-5 win over Italy earlier today (video above).

The memory of losing the Six Nations Grand Slam decider to England back in March will still be fresh in the memory for Ruddock and his squad. That game swung in England’s favour off the back of Irish errors and a lack of physicality. They will have learned their lesson and now the confidence will be up. Best of luck lads, there’ll be plenty of us watching on!

What did you think of the Irish win over South Africa? Which players stood out for you? Drop a comment below…


Photos courtesy: Liam Coughlan.

Munster Squad Update

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Johne Murphy is amongst those to have signed new deals at Munster this week. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks at Munster with the province working on finalising their squad for next season. Today, Johne Murphy, Duncan Williams and John Ryan confirmed new two-year deals while Marcus Horan and Sean Scanlon penned one-year extensions to their contracts.

Earlier in the week, it was confirmed that Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Denis Hurley, Billy Holland and Tommy O’Donnell had all agreed to new two-year deals. Meanwhile, Academy players JJ Hanrahan (centre), Dave O’Callaghan (flanker), Luke O’Dea (wing), Cathal Sheridan (scrumhalf) and Alan Cotter (prop) will all move onto Development contracts next season. A Development contract means that the players will be part of the senior squad full-time, just on cheaper wages than a full contract!

O’Callaghan and O’Dea will be familiar to Munster fans, having both impressed for the senior side in fleeting appearances this season. 19-year-old Hanrahan is a player of great potential. Part of the Ireland U20s side playing for a Grand Slam tonight, he is a creative, playmaking 10/12 who competes with confidence and aggression. The Kerry man managed to stand out for the U20s last year too, despite only being 18 at the time.

Cathal Sheridan ahead of a Munster 'A' match. (c) Dearbhla Sheridan.

Scrumhalf Sheridan is a teammate of Hanrahan’s at UL Bohs and is more than ready for the step-up to senior rugby with Munster. Physical and intelligent, the Sligo native would benefit from Tomas O’Leary and Peter Stringer moving on at the end of the season. Sheridan played his underage rugby with Connacht before a move to Limerick allowed him to secure a place in the Munster Academy. The 23-year-old deserves exposure sooner rather than later.

Young Munster prop Alan Cotter is 25, and earned his break with Munster on the back of his form in the AIL over the last few seasons. A regular member of the B&I Cup side, Cotter is a big unit at well over 17 stone. With BJ Botha eventually set to move on from Munster, the management have recognised the need for strength in depth at tighthead and will hope Cotter can step up to the mark.

Munster have made one further addition to next season’s squad in the shape of flanker Sean Dougall. The 22 year-old will join from English Championship side Rotherham Titans, where he is currently involved in promotion play-offs. Dougall has represented Ireland at U18 and U19 (same year as Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony) level. Once with the Ulster Academy, Dougall moved to England in 2007 to join Leeds Carnegie, also of the Championship.

Dougall keeps an eye on the ball at scrum time for the Titans. (c) Neil Tunney.

He subsequently spent two years out injured before a trial at Rotherham earned him a shot at reviving his career. Since joining the Titans in 2010, he has excelled at openside, even captaining the side this season with regular skipper Sam Dickinson injured. Dougall has played against Munster ‘A’ in the B&I Cup and may have made a lasting impression then. Not too much else is known about the back-row. Having only signed him to a one-year contract, Munster don’t have too much to lose with this deal.

Watch Dougall on Sky Sports 2 this Sunday at 12, when Rotherham take on Leeds in the Championship play-offs. Follow Dougall on Twitter at @seandougall.

*Have you seen any of these young players in action? How do you rate their chances of breaking into the Munster first-team? Comment below with any insight or opinions on all the contractual goings-on at Munster and the new additions to the senior squad.


Photos courtesy: Ivan O’Riordan, Neil Tunney, Dearbhla Sheridan.