JAMES HART ISN’T afraid to admit his first season at Munster failed to live up to expectation, but acknowledging that fact is the first step to proving his worth this time around.
Hart made 14 appearances in his first season at Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
The scrum-half arrived in Limerick from France after spells with Grenoble and then Racing 92 last summer, but transitioning back into Irish rugby proved to be a difficult process and he started just seven games.
With Conor Murray firmly the first-choice nine, Hart found it difficult to dislodge Duncan Williams as the Ireland international’s understudy, with starting opportunities proving hard to come by, especially with Rassie Erasmus — the coach who signed him — departing halfway through the campaign.
Looking back, he may have tried to force the issue a little too much rather than train and play with the sort of freedom he was afforded as first-choice at Grenoble for five successful seasons.
“Obviously it was a tough start and then coming around towards the back end of the season, it kinda got better and a lot more enjoyable,” Hart said this week.
“There are things I did in France I don’t here. I kicked at goal for my whole career in France and I don’t do that here so that’s obviously a big point that I’ve never got to show and it’s always been a huge part of my game.
“At the same time, I’d like to think there’s a lot more in me. And I don’t think we’ve seen the best of me here yet. So I’m looking forward to trying to really show that over the next couple of months.”
After working as part of a reduced group during pre-season at Munster’s University of Limerick base, Hart gets his first chance to stake his claim for early-season selection when the southern province host London Irish in a friendly fixture in Cork on Friday night [7.30pm].
The Clontarf man starts tomorrow’s friendly against London Irish. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
With Murray and the rest of the internationals still easing their way back after an extended break post-Australia, Hart is handed the nine jersey for the first hit-out of the season, with Neil Cronin — signed from Garryowen — named on the bench by Johann van Graan.
After tomorrow night, Munster host Exeter Chiefs at Musgrave Park next week and then welcome the Cheetahs to Thomond Park for their Pro14 opener on 1 September, with Hart fully aware that he needs to seize every opportunity that comes his way.
“The earlier in the season you can do well, it puts a stamp on the start of the season and makes things easier,” the 27-year-old added.
“No one wants to be patient, you want to play because you feel you can play. I wouldn’t say it’s demoralising but I live with Chris Farrell, who I have played with before in France and when I was seeing him do so well, sometimes that can be tough.
“At the same time it’s about not getting caught up and putting too much pressure on yourself but just going out and sticking to your process and try to enjoy the game, play within the team structure and give your best that you can do, then it looks after itself.”
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