THERE IS OPPORTUNITY to be grabbed on personal and collective levels for Sean Cronin when packs down in the front row against Italy in Rome on Sunday afternoon.

Ireland’s slow start in the Six Nations Championship ceded early momentum to England, but after Eddie Jones’ men lost to Wales in an intense bout in Cardiff, the title is up for grabs again.

Not that Ireland had ever felt their title defence was already finished.

“That’s not the way we’re looking at it,” said Cronin last week when asked if the Championship was out of reach.

“We might need a few results to go our way, but we’re targeting every game to win and see where we come in the Championship at the end.

Cronin was, of course, speaking long before England left Cardiff empty-handed with Wales taking up the last Grand Slam hope.

After their 12th straight win, Warren Gatland’s men lead the table with 12 points. While England will be confident of mounting a serious title bid with Italy and Scotland to visit Twickenham, a bonus point-win for Ireland in Rome would bring Ireland up to nine points, enough to keep the reigning champs in the hunt and make it a three-way title battle ahead of a seismic final day clash with Wales in Cardiff.

As Cronin said, however, there doesn’t need to be a sniff of a trophy to give him incentive to deliver his best in Rome.

On the day of his 68th cap, Cronin will win his first start in the Six Nations. And as a core member of the all-conquering Leinster pack, he will continue his attempt to play his way into the number two jersey and give Joe Schmidt a headache over whether to select his captain Rory Best or the explosive 32-year-old.

“Look, I would have hoped to get a bit more game-time off the bench (against Scotland),” Cronin said after Ireland’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium last week.

“All I can do is contribute as best I can. Be ready to go. I came on against England and contributed pretty well. So I just have to bide my time.

“It’s a competitive position with Rory there, Niall Scannell. So any opportunity I get I want to do my best when I get on.

“My club form, I think I’ve brought it in here.”

Kilcoyne and Cronin will start in the front row against Italy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Limerick native added: “I’m a big believer in, ‘you’re only as good as your last match’. What you’ve done, you need to keep it going. It’s a competitive environment here, competitive in Leinster too, so all I can do is keep trying to play well.

“I don’t like to look back too much, because you’re judged on your next performance. All I can do is focus on that.

“If I get an opportunity I’ll try and take it.”

He has it against Italy. And if he can deliver the sort of power which has so often propelled Leinster to victory, Ireland will be well-placed to muscle their way back into the title race.