Conan: I am closing gap on 'fantastic' Heaslip
Last December, when Jamie Heaslip went public about the potential of moving abroad, deep down Jack Conan must have wondered if an opening beckoned.
To no-one's surprise, Heaslip signed a contract extension with Leinster but Conan will stay and fight for his place, despite interest from Ulster.
There had been plenty of calls for Heaslip to lose his place in the Ireland team for Saturday's Six Nations clash with England, but that usually signals that a big performance is on the way from the long-serving No 8.
Conan, however, has been outstanding for Leinster this season and has spent plenty of time in Carton House recently. Barring injury, the summer tour is a certainty for the 24-year old as he looks to add to the one cap that he won two years ago.
The ultra-durable Heaslip has owned the No 8 jersey for both Leinster and Ireland for a long time now but his understudy is ramping up the pressure on him.
"I'm not a million miles off," Conan said at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster School of Excellence.
"Jamie is probably a better all-round player than I am - facets of my game need to improve and I've spoken to coaches and I'm working on those things, but just keep on the way I'm going and hopefully I put my hand up for it.
"For the club it's great to have Jamie around for another few years.
"What he brings here and what he has brought has been absolutely fantastic. I know I've learned a lot off him and we get on very well.
"It's great to have him around for a few more years and keep learning off him, and obviously over the next few months I'd like to push him closer and closer and hopefully some day it will be me starting head of him, but at the moment he's the best No 8 in the country in my eyes so I'll have to keep working hard."
Joe Schmidt has been in regular contact with Conan as he looks to force his way into the Ireland set-up but he will have to wait until June, which he knows will be a massive opportunity.
"Please god, if I keep going the way I'm going I'll be in the shop window for it," he said.
"I can only control with what I'm doing and I'm happy with the way I'm going. If I keep on going in the vein of form I'm in at the moment I'd like to think I'd be there.
"I've definitely gained a lot from the amount of time down there in the set up with the coaches and the rest of the lads. It has definitely been a worthwhile experience.
"There's always positive feedback coming from him (Schmidt)."
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