Conan is on the move and no longer running to stand still
Jack Conan's career path always seemed smoothly set in stone steps.
You know the drill. Schools rugby, Academy, Leinster, caught by a grouchy Grizzly and torn limb from limb...
Huh? Bear with us; please. You know the old gag about the two guys in the mountains who suddenly bother a bear?
One guy starts putting on his runners. "What the hell are you putting on them for?" "Well," our mate says calmly, "I don't have to out-run the bear. I only have to out-run you."
For too long, Conan was the guy who wouldn't put his runners on. Competing with the imperious Jamie Heaslip for a place can do that to a body.
He's in a different place now. No longer does he compare himself to his rivals, instead seeking within to do the best with what he has.
From the outside, it would appear as if Heaslip's long-term back injury all of itself might have alleviated Conan's mental toil but even before then he was re-assessing his motivation. Becoming his own man, instead of trying to be someone else.
He's all the better for it, as his steady graduation into Irish contention, on the back of outstanding club form, has amply illustrated. He knows now what he can be, rather than fretting about what he can't.
"Yeah, it's nice," says the man who may seek to add to his five caps during this spring's Six Nations championship.
"It's obviously unfortunate that Jamie hasn't been around to compete in recent months because of the injury. I look forward to him getting back to full fitness and the two of us helping each other improve and fighting it out, and the likes of Max Deegan as well. This is his first real year as a senior and he's been brilliant as well.
"But it's nice to not be constantly compared to someone else and be my own player."
For him, that is now the bottom line. No point in comparing himself to others, content that there may always be others better than him, some inferior. His goal is simply to be the best he can be. He can't change how other people play, only how he himself performs.
Doing otherwise can often lead to a lack of focus and this was the aspect he discussed the last time we caught up. And now?
"The concentration wasn't the only bit," he explains. "It was more about my energy and my bounce in defence. The main point of that was because I wasn't staying in the moment.
"I think it's been better since we sat down and talked about it. We've had those two Exeter games, even the inter-provincials, defensively my workload has been a good bit higher.
"At the weekend, it was very, very low but it was just a strange game and I didn't end up getting through a lot of work at all in the 55 minutes I played.
"But I think we struggled to go through more than nine phases of play so it was hard on either side of the ball to get into it.
"I sat down and I looked at myself and there were massive areas to improve on. I do think I'm gradually getting there bit by bit so I'm happy with the progress.
"I've just become a bit more consistent. I've gone from having big moments in smaller games to being more consistent in big games, which I think is massively important for international standards.
"I'm doing as much as I can. I'll have to see how it ends up."
The hope, if not presumption, would be that it ends up in him retaining his place in a trimmed-down Six Nations squad for the opening game against France in Paris and then, perhaps, with key back-rows like Seán O'Brien, Heaslip and Rhys Ruddock currently in casualty, elbowing his way into a 23-man match-day squad.
"I'd like to think I'll be involved in the Six Nations squad, anyway. To be honest, it's just not something I've given too much thought to.
"It's been a massive few weeks here for Leinster Rugby, ever since those two Exeter games into the inter-provincials, this is the time of the year we set ourselves up to win trophies down the line and I haven't thought outside of playing for Leinster at all.
"So one more Leinster game before...if I get picked, I'll be in the mix."
Others may have their expectations but he is comfortable with his own. He is happy in himself.
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