Monday 26 August 2019

Jack Conan: I wanted to be involved in more of the bigger games

Leinster and Ireland No 8 sets his sights on improved new year as he aims to become a major part of Schmidt's World Cup plans

Jack Conan on his way to scoring Leinster’s first try against Bath in their recent Champions Cup clash at the Aviva stadium. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Jack Conan on his way to scoring Leinster’s first try against Bath in their recent Champions Cup clash at the Aviva stadium. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The nature of being a professional rugby player is such that the disappointing days tend to linger a lot longer in the memory than most of the good times.

For all that Jack Conan achieved in the last year, he missed out on too many of those big occasions for his liking.

While the No 8 did win another six Ireland caps and played his part in Leinster's double success, he remained behind CJ Stander in the international pecking order and also lost his starting place for the Champions Cup final.

Conan is no stranger to bouncing back from setbacks and the manner in which he has done so thus far in his career has stood to him.

Heading into his fifth year as a professional, the 26-year-old is nearing a point in his career where he will feel that he should be first-choice for both club and country, which is why it is tough to stomach being overlooked for the bigger games.

"At this stage last year, if you told me I'd go on and play six more times for Ireland, I probably would have bitten your hand off and said 'That would be fantastic,'" Conan admits.

"But in saying that, I think it's just the nature of any athlete in any professional sport that it's never enough and when you get to any kind of level, you always want to push on.

"As great as those days were, and obviously being involved in fantastic things over the last 12 months whether it be with Leinster or Ireland, the big games I wanted to play in.

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"To miss out on those big Tests against Argentina and the All Blacks at home - those are the days at the end of your career that you'll always remember.

"It's tough looking back and not having been selected for those. Hopefully I'll push on and get more opportunities in those really high intensity, high pressure moments because that's why we do it.

"I don't think I'd ever look back and say I was happy with that.

"It was great, and I experienced so much and achieved a lot of success, especially here at Leinster, but I look back and not starting that final over in Bilbao, only playing the two games in the Six Nations.

"You're always going to be hungrier and never settling and wanting more for yourself.

"Hopefully in 2019 I can push on. Obviously it's a massive year for Irish rugby and please God things go well and I'll be on the plane over to Japan.

"But there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and then, especially here in Leinster where we're looking to go back-to-back champions in Europe."

The departure of Jordi Murphy, who replaced him in Bilbao, has somewhat lessened the competition, but the emergence of Caelan Doris and Max Deegan leaves no room for complacency.

Not that Conan could ever be accused of that. Over the last couple of seasons, he has been one of Leinster's most consistent performers.

The Bray native is still Leo Cullen's first-choice No 8, yet Conan is fully aware that if he is to give Joe Schmidt a selection headache for the massive year ahead, he must impress in the festive inter-pro derbies and beyond.

With Conan set to start in Thomond Park tomorrow evening, if he gets the chance to come up against Stander again, it is one that he will relish.

"What he does and the way he plays is nothing to do with me, and it has no impact on how I play or what I do so I don't worry or think about it," Conan insists.

"If he's going well, great. It just adds to the competition in Ireland.

"It's tough in Ireland camp. When you're in here and it's not game week, things can be a bit more open, but when you're in Ireland camp the team's named on the Monday and if you're not playing, you're straight into running opposition plays and things like that, so you don't really get to train against each other.

"It's a bit restricted in some ways. Myself and CJ, to be fair, any time I get the nod, he's available to sit down and chat through the moves.

"Obviously he's been around a good few years, he has a good few caps under his belt. He's always on top of his detail, he always has his plays marked off, so if I'm struggling with a few questions, he'll always be my go to.

"We help each other out in camp, he's going very well at the moment, Munster in Castres, they lost but I thought he performed very well. He's in good form so it will be a good test for me and the rest of the back-row."

Leinster were convincing winners on their last visit to Limerick and have now racked up four straight victories against Munster.

There is no doubt who the balance of power currently lies with between the old rivals and Conan is eager to keep it that way.

"It (last year's win) was massive," he adds.

"The year before we'd gone down and been embarrassed, really sold ourselves short, but last year you had lads going down to experience Thomond Park for the first time, and doing it the day after Christmas Day.

"I don't think anyone was expecting the performance we put in, and the way we won.

"You had James Ryan and Jordan (Larmour) playing their first games against Munster down there, I think it's set the bar and we'll look to go down and repeat it.

"It's going to be a massive challenge and (it's) exciting, considering the guys have that bit more experience."

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