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Conan all set to seek and destroy for Leinster


 Leinster's Jack Conan, right, and Luke Fitzgerald in action during squad training

Leinster's Jack Conan, right, and Luke Fitzgerald in action during squad training

Leinster's Jack Conan, right, and Luke Fitzgerald in action during squad training

Every coach has players he fancies for one reason or another.

For Matt O'Connor, Darragh Fanning is one. Jack Conan is beginning to look like another.

What the years at Leicester Tigers have given O'Connor is a tendency to look to the big man.

He had Manu Tuilagi at outside centre for the East Midlands club. He likes the look of Ben Te'o for the same role at Leinster.

While most independent observers viewed Te'o as a likely twelve on transition back from Rugby League, O'Connor sees him as a thirteen where the loose-forwards would have to move faster to get closer.

Te'o could be back for his second coming on Saturday after fracturing his forearm on his debut at home to Edinburgh.

The same could be said of Fanning. He has the size and the scope to set defences different problems to solve than Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Zane Kirchner and Luke Fitzgerald.

The problem for Conan is that the Irish heavyweights are scheduled for combat duty on Saturday.

That means the return of club captain Jamie Heaslip at number eight and Conan looking for game time on the blindside.

With Rhys Ruddock out, Kevin McLaughlin under an injury cloud, Dominic Ryan dealing with concussion and Jordi Murphy fighting for his form, this may well happen for him.

This has been Conan's breakthrough season. Sure, the mounting injuries opened the door. But he still had to kick it in.

His debut came in a Man of the Match award at Cardiff Blues in the PRO12 last February.


He has pulled on the jersey eleven more times since September, fitting in five 80s, the most recent against Munster at Thomond Park. Sure, there had been Champions Cup experience off the bench against Castres and Harlequins twice.

But he started in Limerick across the gain line from CJ Stander, Tommy O'Donnell and Robin Copeland.

"I suppose you can't worry about who is lining up against you," he said.

"You have to focus on your own actions, make your own hits, make your own carries. They are going to do what they are going to do and you have to stop them as much as you can."

How did he find the intensity? "I wouldn't say it was a shock," he imparted.

"Talking to a few of the older lads going down there we knew the atmosphere and intensity would be huge.

"It's definitely up there. I was lucky enough to play both games against Harlequins, so I saw what the intensity was like on the European stage and it was a level similar to that.

Conan is making his way in the game in a scenario that could well be termed wrong position, wrong time, such is the durability of Jamie Heaslip at eight.

His willingness to learn his trade will keep him at home. For now. The second best at Leinster can become the best number eight in most clubs.

Meanwhile, there is the last of three quickfire Christmas Inter-provincials on the way at to a sold-out RDS on Saturday afternoon when Ulster will also be in need of valuable points as fifth hosts fourth.

"I expect another physical match. We know what they are going to bring to the table," he argued.

"It's a chance for us to right a few wrongs and perform at a level that we are happy with. If you look back two weeks ago against Connacht we were a lot better, so we'll try to emulate that come Saturday."