Tuesday 15 October 2019

Home-grown stars can drive Leinster forward - Jack Conan

Leinster's Jack Conan. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Jack Conan. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

European rugby is all about contrasting styles and that extends beyond the pitch.

The models on which competing clubs, regions and provinces are run vary wildly across the six participating countries and last Saturday's clash at the RDS was a battle between two very different operations.

The Irish sides have always relied on their home-grown systems to produce players, but they used to be able to compete at the top end of the overseas market to supplement their squad.

Recent television deals have rendered that much more difficult and they have turned to their Academy more and more.

Leinster's win over Montpellier was achieved with a team shorn of its most experienced Ireland internationals, the marquee overseas signing Scott Fardy and, for 55 minutes, the captain and spiritual leader Isa Nacewa.

Even with the 35-year-old skipper starting, the average age of the starting XV was 25 and there were two players making their European debuts against a multi-talented, expensively-assembled team funded by private money and led by the best-paid coach in the world.

The odds should have been against Leinster, but they weren't. They rode their luck at times, but despite a clear size disadvantage they secured a full house.

And for No 8 Jack Conan, the togetherness generated by coming through the province is a real asset.

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"I think it's something that's very difficult to replicate if you do leave where you come from," he said. "For me, there's a great sense of pride when you play for Leinster.

"A lot of work went in for so many years before I got the opportunity to do it; it was never a guarantee that you would play for Leinster... if it's something you've thought about, dreamed about, worked hard for near enough a decade then I think it's going to mean that little bit more to you.

"I wouldn't know what it's like playing somewhere else, but there's so many lads here who would be around my age and growing up we played so many games together, we know each other.

"There's a great sense of team here, we pride ourselves on how close we are as a team.

"When you're coming up against a pack that people might say is a better pack than Leinster's, more physical, that shows test of character and will.

"I'd hate to think that anyone would think we're not as good as someone else, it's nice to prove a point and say, 'If you think you're going to come here and bully us that's not going to be the way we'll have it'."

So, when the big guns of Montpellier rolled on to the Ballsbridge turf the Leinster players knew their work-rate could see them through.

"There is such great depth and talent here, the lads just want to dig in and work hard," Conan said. "We pride ourselves that when people come to the RDS it's never going to be easy.

"Mentally, we brought the physicality we needed to deal with their big ball-carriers, their scrum and their maul. We dug in and it showed."

This week, they cross swords with a familiar foe in Glasgow Warriors.

The Scots kicked off their campaign with a disappointing defeat to Exeter that left them bottom of Pool 3 without a bonus point. Victory for Leo Cullen's men can see them take control.

"There's plenty to work on, but the mood is good," Conan said.

"A few weeks ago, before the Munster game, we looked at this block of three games which were massive and we started off on the right foot, we've built and we've gotten better and better.

"The task this week will be so different to the weekend just gone.

"We know Glasgow will look to play with a much better tempo, their skill-set will be better so if we can bring the physicality that we brought to Montpellier on Saturday into Glasgow, with that higher tempo to our own game, then we'll be in a good spot."

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