Life at the Dragons is home from home for Irish wanderer
For much-travelled Irishman JJ Hanrahan, the Dragons is proving to be a real home from home.
The 30-year-old utility back came on board from French club Clermont Auvergne over the summer and has helped the Welsh side make an encouraging start to their BKT United Rugby Championship campaign.
He was used to playing against them, from his two spells with Munster, and now he has been experiencing at first hand just what life is like with the Newport-based outfit.
“I love it, I love the club. I am from a similar region, a similar area. It reminds me of my time with Munster,” he said.
“Limerick and Newport are similar places, to be honest, working class people. I can relate pretty well.
“There are no egos at this club and the boys really fight for each other. No-one is ahead of each other in any way, no-one looks down on anyone and I really enjoy that about it.
“We have a good atmosphere. Dai (Flanagan) is leading the group really well in a really positive manner. We are steadily building.”
Born and raised in County Kerry, then schooled in County Tipperary, Hanrahan made his debut for Munster as a teenager, representing both Ireland U20s and Emerging Ireland during his first stint with the province.
After two years at Northampton, he rejoined Munster for a second spell, taking his total number of appearances for them up to 141, ahead of spending a year with Clermont and then opting for the Dragons.
He has had eight outings for the Men of Gwent to date, primarily at fly-half, scoring 48 points, claiming his first touchdown during last weekend’s 34-26 BKT URC defeat to the DHL Stormers in Gqeberha.
That helped the Dragons claim a four-try bonus point as they came from 28-0 down with a stirring second half revival against the reigning league champions. It was a quality score, with Hanrahan delivering the finish after successive offloads from Ben Fry, Harrie Keddie and Lewis Jones.
Reflecting on the game as a whole, he said: “We were just a little bit on the back foot in the first half, we weren’t meeting tackles, we were letting them come on to us and it was like trying to stop a steam train sometimes out there.
“Rugby is a physical game and if you don’t meet a team like the Stormers on the gain-line, you are chasing them all day. We properly got smacked in the mouth in the first half.”
So what was the message at the interval, with the Dragons trailing 28-7? “There were a couple of things said, probably some things we can’t talk about here!” replied Hanrahan.
“The try Jordan (Williams) got just before the break gave us a bit of hope and we know we can fight back and stay in games. Dai (Flanagan) spoke about going back to basics and sticking to our game-plan because I think I only touched the ball at re-starts in the first-half. We couldn’t hold the ball, we were just defending for the whole half pretty much.
“We regrouped after the break and it was a bit more of a Dragons performance. We were very proud of that second half. There’s good character in this group, which is a really good thing. They are good men, they care a lot about the club and the team, so I’m not surprised that we stayed in the fight.
“We started holding on to the ball, putting pressure on them and did a lot better and made it a bit more of a match. We are a very fit team, a mobile team and we are quite strong when we have got fast ball and we are moving it, playing with some tempo.”
Next up for the Dragons is Saturday’s European Challenge Cup clash with the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg. They will be out for revenge, having lost 33-25 to the same opposition at the same venue in the BKT URC just over a week ago.
“We have got to come out of the blocks a bit better. You are in South Africa, they are proud men.
“They are physical, they are strong, they are going to come at you, they are going to be confrontational and if you shy away from that, it’s going to be a very long day, so we have got to meet that front on and that’s our challenge,” said Hanrahan.
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