Tuesday 26 September 2017

Conway's confidence boost after Schmidt pep talk

In-form winger benefiting from Munster omission

'Conway appreciates that there is a gulf between being called up late to a training camp and, say, touring South Africa' Photo: Sportsfile
'Conway appreciates that there is a gulf between being called up late to a training camp and, say, touring South Africa' Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

When Connacht pulverised Munster in Galway last month, Andrew Conway had found himself benched, with Darren Sweetnam taking his place.

He knew why he was there. He also knew he didn't want to be there for long.

He would get his chance again; he knew that too. That chance came against Edinburgh last Friday and boy did he snatch it with both hands.

A raucous man of the match display, full of swift counter-attacking, intelligent kicking and potent running saw him create two tries and score one.

The change had been as necessary as the rest.

"Subbing Connacht was a blessing in disguise because I had been carrying a few little knocks from a lot of 80 minutes over the season and it was just catching up with me in my performance, my momentum wasn't that good," says the former Leinster flyer, who extended his Munster contract this spring until 2018.

Value

"I was getting through games without being too busy, without being too effective, without adding too much value.

"But I was fresh coming into Edinburgh mentally and physically - it had been a while since I had felt like that, especially when you are going through the tough months of the winter and the results aren't going well.

"It sucks a bit of the life out of you and that was transferring into my performance.

"Originally you are not too happy because even if you are not 100pc fit you want to be playing and you don't want to be giving lads chances. Once that is the way it is going to be, though, you take the positive out of it."

Having so authoritatively secured the full-back position during the spring - such that Joe Schmidt drafted him into Camp Ireland to cover there - being omitted against Connacht, albeit expected, still jarred.

He had been shifted to the wing for the Leinster match in the Aviva, following Simon Zebo's return from international duty, which arguably contributed to his mental sluggishness.

"That was such a big game," he admits, of another defeat. "I had been playing at 15 and enjoying it so when you go back to wing it is a slight change. I didn't respect the change as much as I should have.

"I talked to Joe up in camp and he said he'd seen me as winger that can cover full-back, so you take the positives from it.

"I thought, 'Right, if that is going to get me to hopefully put my hand up and get into those squads from the start for Ireland then happy days, let's try and finish the season well on the wing."

A pep talk with Anthony Foley helped, too, as his Munster career continues to grow some semblance of traction.

"My first season wasn't great. I hadn't got much momentum, I only played 12 games but last year was quite good," he says.

"Then towards the tail end of the season I wasn't getting picked but I was happy with how I had gone and probably had a bee in my bonnet about why I wasn't getting picked."

While chuffed at being remembered by his old Leinster coach, Conway (right) appreciates that there is a gulf between being called up late to a training camp and, say, touring South Africa.

He knows there is a lingering gulf in experience.

"Players like Keith Earls and Conor Murray," he explains, "are experienced 50+-capped internationals. "However bad or average Munster are in a season, even last weekend when we were seventh in the league, those lads are going to get picked (for Ireland).

"Then there's lads who are trying to make it that are at a stage where if a team is not playing well, and other provinces are playing well, then you can see from Joe Schmidt's point of view that he is going to be looking at Connacht players first.

"They are playing well, they are winning. There is a buzz about Connacht. Those are the lads who are going to be moving on up and getting into camp."

Nonetheless, winning an international cap remains an unticked goal for this season.

"Playing for Ireland is at the top of every Irish player's goal list," says Conway.

Goals

"Everyone wants to have an international career. I am no different. Believe me. I think about it a lot. One of my goals this season was to play for Ireland.

"If I end up going to South Africa, which I doubt is going to happen, it will be an unbelievable honour.

"It is something you think about on a daily basis. You see your mates playing for Ireland and you would be mad not to want that for yourself."

Finishing the campaign in style, albeit prematurely, against the Scarlets tomorrow, may ensure he remains in Schmidt's thoughts in the weeks ahead. "Hopefully, I can step up again," he says.

"Hopefully 14 others players can step up and have their best game of the season too. That is what you are looking for.

"If I am playing well, it probably means the person next to me is playing well too and if someone else is playing well inside me, then it makes my job easier."

Irish Independent

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