Wednesday 11 December 2019

'You always hope the chance will come your way'

Will Connors looks forward to making his first home start against Southern Kings tonight. Picture: Sportsfile
Will Connors looks forward to making his first home start against Southern Kings tonight. Picture: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

With his Leinster debut under his belt against Edinburgh and a home debut against the reigning Guinness PRO14 champions the Scarlets in the RDS following a week later, Leinster Academy forward Will Connors was already creating a bit of a name for himself.

But just in case, James Lowe has given Connors - or 'Porridge' as he is now known by all - an extra little dig-out.

After his man of the match performance against the Scarlets last week, Lowe was discussing with the assembled media the performances of the Leinster Academy players that evening and indeed over the previous few weeks.

Jordan Larmour had done his thing. Josh Murphy was immense. Add to the mix that Ciarán Frawley had just put in a masterful 60-minute debut performance off the bench with two kicks from the boot for good measure. Connors came off the bench with less than ten minutes to go but his impact on Lowe went beyond that cameo. Problem was, he couldn't remember his name, so he went with his nickname... Porridge!

"I actually have no idea how Porridge got into Leinster," explains 21-year-old Connors. But the Kildare native is happy to confirm that the nickname is accurate at least.

"Yeah, I got it from my time in school as a boarder in Clongowes and I suppose every evening I would be going to the dining room with a packet of microwavable oats under my arms and I don't know how or who came up with it, but in school like that, when you spend so much time in each other's company while boarding lads are looking for the smallest thing to latch on to.

"And for me it was the microwavable porridge! So yeah, it stuck and now even more people know about it thanks to James. Actually come to think of it when I hear someone say 'Will' it's usually not a good sign. The mother calling you or the headmaster or whatever. So yeah, Porridge has stuck and it doesn't look like it's going away any time soon!"

He clearly has a lot of time for his alma mater. Clongowes Wood College is most famous in a rugby sense for Gordon D'Arcy, the Kearney brothers and Fergus McFadden but more recently a new crop has been coming through.

Proud "Yeah obviously the two Kearneys and Ferg but also Jordan Coughlan and Conor Gilsenan who were in the Leinster Academy and now lately you have Peadar Timmins, the Byrne twins, Ed and Bryan, and myself so I suppose the school has a proud record of producing players that go on into the Leinster system.

"I think the school has an excellent ethos and a sense of togetherness. It's relatively small too with maybe 100 students per year so when you come up against the bigger schools you do feel like you are battling against the odds in some ways but that steels you for the challenges ahead and I think that mentality is perfect for those that pursue a career in rugby. I loved my time there."

Connors is in the third year of his four-year Computer Science degree in UCD but the books have taken a bit of a back seat over the last few weeks. Not that he was expecting it.

"I suppose for me this season I have been away with Ireland 7s a lot and really a lot of my focus was on that and an opportunity with Leinster wasn't immediately on the horizon if I'm honest.

"We then came back in after the January break and in my head I was looking at a 7s event that was on in Hong Kong in April and gearing myself up to that.

"We had a rugby training week first and there was no indication I was in the mix but then the week after, the week of the Edinburgh game, Leo said it to me on the Monday and I was really taken aback. Delighted obviously but I was really surprised.

"Of course you always hope that the chance will come your way and you train as hard and as best you can but you never know when the break will come your way. The week was great.

"Knowing of a Monday meant I could then train away knowing what I had to do and knew that I could prep for them as best as I could. The Friday itself was a long day and trying not to get distracted or to let nerves take over but I think I got there."

It was all a bit last minute dot com in the end for his mum and dad, Lelia and Nick, but they made it to Myreside for their son's big moment.

"Yeah, they were there. It was hugely disappointing to lose the game against Edinburgh but afterwards I did take it in and I did savour the moment and how special it was and it was great to celebrate it with them briefly before we headed off back to Dublin."

A week later, another debut, this time a home debut off the bench against Scarlets and this time mum and dad were joined by sisters Ashleigh and Edie.

"To be honest, what I've noticed between the two games is that there is not much difference to training in that the pace and the intensity that we train at under Leo, Stuart and the other coaches is massive so I don't think that caught me out.

"But the physicality did. In the PRO14 matches the physicality is a notch above training because ultimately that is what everyone is waiting for, isn't it? During the week there are of course tough sessions but everyone is gearing up and holding something back for the match day. So against Edinburgh and against the Scarlets that physicality was definitely up there."

Tonight in the RDS he will make his first home start against the Southern Kings.

Conscious "I can't wait. We have prepped well for the Kings this week and I think we will be very conscious of their threats and how well they did for 50, 60 minutes last week against the Ospreys but I think we also have to back our product and what we are trying to do."

Also the chance to run out from the off in front of over 14,000 Leinster supporters in the RDS for the first time.

"The RDS is about so much more than Leinster Rugby. It means so much. Growing up the RDS was the pinnacle of schools cup rugby. That is where you wanted to be on St Patrick's weekend. In that final.

"So the RDS for anyone growing up playing schools rugby is just on another level. You dreamt of playing there. So to now be able to do it with Leinster Rugby in the PRO14 is surreal but I'll make sure to enjoy these moments. You have to."

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