Former Lions star believes Munster ace is en route to the top
BY KIERAN McCARTHY
DARREN Sweetnam’s ‘football brain’ has him on course to go right to the very top, insists former Ireland and Lions rugby star Paul Wallace.
Dunmanway man Sweetnam made his comeback from a knee injury he suffered on St Stephen’s Day when Munster thumped Newport Gwent Dragons, 45-17, in the Guinness PRO12 league at Musgrave Park last Friday night week.
Prior to his injury, former Doheny hurler Sweetnam was one of Munster’s standout players this season.
The timing of Sweetnam’s injury was unfortunate, as he looked well placed to be included in Ireland’s extended squad for the Six Nations and maybe even push his way into the match-day 23.
Former Ireland player Paul Wallace feels the West Cork man has what it takes to cut it at international level.
‘He’s on the right track to make it with Ireland,’ Wallace told The Southern Star.
‘The competition at the moment is very encouraging but that makes it a little bit more difficult. Look at Munster, you’ve Conway, Earls, Zebo and O’Mahony, they’re all playing so well, so if you can get on the Munster team these days, you’re up there and within shouting distance of the Irish side.
‘Tommy Bowe is coming near the end of his days, Andrew Trimble is pushing on a bit as well so those spots will be opening up, but the competition, even with the young Leinster and Connacht guys, it’s turning into one of the most competitive time ever for Ireland in a lot of positions.
‘What Sweetnam has is a superb football understanding, especially now that the game isn’t just about wingers finishing on the outside anymore. He got caught short maybe defensively in the Leinster game but that was a turning point for him and for Munster, and he has learned and adapted very quickly to the top level.’
Wallace feels that Sweetnam’s all-round games makes him stand out but he did stress the need for the former Cork senior hurler to play as many games as possible, to garner as much experience as he can.
‘Darren is going the right way, it doesn’t happen overnight, you need to play a lot of top-level rugby, so it is about getting big game experience. It’s about playing in the European and big PRO12 games and proving yourself in that environment,’ Wallace explained.
‘With the way Munster are playing now, it’s a great time to be a winger. When you have Conor Murray and his kicking game, you need wingers who are good in the air and who have good timing.
‘What’s really impressed me – and even from my day we have been going on about this, from Ian McGeechan – is being able to offload and running good lines, that’s how you break defences, not by hanging on to the ball.
‘Look at when the All Blacks beat Ireland, look at their off-loading game, they only had 30 per cent of the possession yet they won quite comfortably on the scoreboard. It’s all about the off load, the ability to create opportunities and see what’s in front of you, and I think Darren has that.
‘His hurling background has helped him, he has that awareness and he has brought that into rugby.
‘The more big games he plays, the better he’ll get.
‘His skill levels and off loading were very impressive before he got injured; those are the things that he needs to keep moving on.
‘It’s not about wingers being able to finish any more or chasing high balls, you need to be able to visualise what’s going to happen a phase ahead and be aware of the space.’