Monday 16 July 2018

Conan: My time of being patient is over, I'm ready to perform in the big games

Ireland's Jack Conan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland's Jack Conan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

As apprenticeships go, waiting behind an ultra-durable player like Jamie Heaslip is inevitably not going to offer up many chances to shine in the big games, but as soon as Jack Conan got a sniff last season he seized his opportunity with both hands.

Conan has had to be patient and while it hasn't always been easy, few Irish players enjoyed as good a last season as the Wicklow native.

Having turned 25 over the summer, by his own admission Conan is about to enter the prime of his career so it is fitting that he believes that his time spent in Heaslip's shadow is now at an end.

A back injury curtailed Heaslip's season which propelled Conan to the fore and his performances for Leinster and later with Ireland on the summer tour were outstanding.

Nine tries for Leinster, including a hat-trick in the Champions Cup against Montpellier, was soon followed by another two for Ireland in June.

A quick glance at Conan's stats illustrates the impact he is having with ball in hand - 212 carries for 918 metres is impressive in anyone's book - and he knows that he will never be in a better position to make the No 8 jersey his own.

Ulster failed to lure him to Belfast, mainly because Conan has always believed in his own ability to be first choice at his home province.

"I think I had a great season last year and I backed it up with three good performances in the green jersey at the end of the season," he said at the launch of Ireland's new Canterbury jersey.

"I'm not looking to take my foot off the pedal at all, even though there are people coming back into the frame.

"I think my time of being patient is over. Now it's time to play and perform in those big games.

"I'll be disappointed if I'm not selected when it comes to Europe and things like that but that's in my hands at the moment."

Conan came in for plenty of praise from Joe Schmidt over the summer but the largely positive feedback he received was supplemented by plenty of work-ons. Welcome to the Joe Schmidt way.

"It was kind of a compliment sandwich; 'here's a good thing, here's a not so good thing, here's another good thing'," Conan explained.

"I was expecting what I was going to be told so it wasn't exactly a shock.

"I think I've put my hand up now and shown that I can play at that level and perform. I think I was consistent throughout those three Tests but in saying that, Jamie is coming back fit now. Jordi Murphy is back as well.

"That's just in Leinster alone, so the pressure is on. I just have to put the head down and hope that I get the nod in November.

"I think I've done that to some degree but obviously there is a lot more to do. Then when Jamie is back in the mix things will be a bit different.

"Last year I missed a handful of games at the start of the year but other than that I was lucky enough to stay away from those little niggles that can keep you out.

"Previous to playing in the United States, I only had one cap and in my eyes, it wasn't exactly a great performance.

"At least I now have a bit more pedigree to me and I have those games under my belt. I definitely think that I have a bit more weight on my side in terms of selection."

Leinster have high hopes for Conan this season and rightly so but the player himself is equally ambitious.

Heaslip hasn't fully recovered from his injury which is likely to mean that the young pretender will start the season as first-choice No 8.

"I think I've just matured a little bit," Conan added.

"I understand the game a bit better, my confidence is higher and I think my work-rate probably wasn't where it needed be.

"It was something I spoke to Stuart (Lancaster) and Joe about. I think that's been up. Obviously there's a long way to go but I'm definitely on the right track.

"It would be different if Jamie was 32 and I was 30, I'd obviously be cleaning his boots for the last 10 years.

"Jamie's had a great career, still will have a great career. It's fortunate for me that he's on the verge of winding down - not to say that he is, because he'll bite my head off.

"I think I have proven, whether it was in the Champions Cup or coming to the business end of the year, those big games like against the Scarlets, even though we didn't win, I was happy enough with my personal performance.

"Hopefully I have done enough in their eyes but again it's a new season, it's a clean slate. I have to go back to work and show what I can do all over again."

Irish Independent

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