Saints new boy Hanrahan hopes to succeed where many have failed

Many have tried and many have failed, but JJ Hanrahan is hopeful he is the man to buck the trend.

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 16th October 2015, 7:00 am
JJ Hanrahan has been in good form during pre-season (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
JJ Hanrahan has been in good form during pre-season (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

The Irishman has arrived at Franklin’s Gardens this summer with one aim: to secure the Saints fly-half spot.

But that task is not as simple as it sounds, as standing in his way is a man who is as associated with the No.10 as David Cameron.

Stephen Myler has been a firm first choice at Northampton since his previous rival, Ryan Lamb, left for Leicester Tigers in the summer of 2013.

Since then, Saints have won the Aviva Premiership and Amlin Challenge Cup - with Myler man of the match in both finals - and topped the Premiership table for the first time.

Director of rugby Jim Mallinder and his coaching staff, including attack coach Alex King, who has had a big influence on Myler, put their faith in the former rugby league man.

And how he has repaid them, showing that his assured approach and kicking prowess is exactly what the team needs to thrive.

Gone are the days when enigmatic characters such as Carlos Spencer, Shane Geraghty and Lamb flirted with the fly-half role.

They all failed to unseat Myler for any length of time, forcing them to move to pastures new.

But, at just 23, Hanrahan hopes to be different.

He knows that Myler is the main man at the moment, and he is keen to learn from the established star.

But he also has ambitions of making the shirt his own and, having grown up at Munster, the club he left during the summer, he is not fazed by a challenge.

“Stephen is firmly No.1 at the moment but there’s a lot of games, 28 weeks, and he did unbelievably well to play every game last year,” Hanrahan said. “It’s a long toll on the body and I’m just looking forward to getting as many opportunities as I can and impress the coaches.

“The move was about improving my game and getting to that next level, international standard.

“It’s even about playing European games because I’ve come off the bench in a lot of European games but I haven’t started as a key player.

“When you get to that level you start competing internationally so there’s a long road ahead of me, a lot to learn and it’s about keeping the head down and the ears open, take it all in.”

Hanrahan has shown his versatility at Munster, playing in a number of positions in the back line, including at full-back and at centre.

But he said: “Ten is where I think I can add most to the game, but if there’s a week where the team need me to help out in different positions, it’s a team sport and I’ll dig in there.

“Ten is where I’d like to put up my hand at the moment.

“If I’m on the bench and Stephen’s starting, there’s obviously the chance for me to come on in different positions so that’s something the coaches can look at.”

Hanrahan’s move from Munster is a brave one.

Playing for the Red Army is all he has ever known, but he is desperate to remove himself from his comfort zone.

“Munster is a big province, that’s where my home is and I’ve played school rugby at Munster and it was a difficult decision,” said the Currow-born back.

“But when I came over and met the coaches and players here, I knew what I was coming into.

“That made the decision easier and (Saints team manager) Paul Shields was great for me as well, it just really made me feel at home straight away.

“It gave me a lot of confidence in the decision and I firmly believe it’s the right one for me.”

Time will tell on that, but if pre-season is anything to go by, Hanrahan should be a big hit.

His clever breaks and kicking from hand have been particularly eye-catching, and now he can’t wait to sample the Premiership for the first time.

“I’ve watched plenty of it, it’s an outstanding league,” said Hanrahan.

“I even went to a game (between Leicester and Saracens) last season just to watch it and even though it was during an international window, it 
was still unbelievably competitive.

“I couldn’t believe it because sometimes during the international period the PRO12 can lack a little intensity, but here’s it’s a non-stop league.

“I’m really looking forward to that challenge and although it’s going to be tough, 100 per cent week in, week out, I can’t wait for it.”

Hanrahan doesn’t have to wait long now, with the new campaign kicking off at Worcester Warriors on Friday night.

But just how long it will take him to take over the 10 shirt from Myler remains unclear.