Wednesday 21 August 2019

Jack Conan knows that game of patience is his virtue

Leinster’s Jack Conan, left, in action during training this week
Leinster’s Jack Conan, left, in action during training this week
David Kelly

David Kelly

JACK Conan knows that he has little time to learn the values of patience.

Having been suitably impressive enough for his paymasters to allow him to skip the final year of Leinster Academy in order to earn his first pro contract, he is determined to maintain that vaulting progress.

Having landed here now, playing for Leinster in European competition and huge interpros against Munster, there is no time to worry about whether he is the patient type.

"I suppose it depends who you ask," he muses, perhaps patiently. "I suppose I am."

Jamie Heaslip, whose DNA was apparently fabricated in conjunction with NASA, remains the only front-line Irish international not to be scratched from action by injury under Matt O'Connor or, indeed, Joe Schmidt.

Conan is nominally a number eight; hence the need for depthless pools of patience.

"It's all about playing but at the moment I'm happy where I am," says Conan, seemingly content to somehow elbow his way into one of the most competitive back-row units around.

"I'm doing well in the position I'm in at the moment and it's not something I'm going to worry about for another year or two. At the moment I'm here and I'm happy.

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"I was sitting down last year to try and think about my future, all the options I have to weigh up. I know I am in a very difficult position with a lot of quality players around me.

"But I kinda backed myself. I wanted to take my shot and see how I went and I'm glad I did."

Presuming Heaslip is released from the grip of IRFU control this weekend so at least some returning emigrants can see him in action at a sold-out RDS, Conan may be benched again; although a blindside berth may be vacated by injuries elsewhere.

"I've never really played at 7 but if Matt asked me if I would I'd try my hat at it. Six or eight would be a bit more comfortable to play. But the most important thing is to be playing."

And playing well; when he gets the chance.

"It was a bit wait and see because training is a bit different to a match, to deliver on the day is completely different," he explains.

"I think taking your opportunities on the day is when you realise that you are able to play the standard and do what is expected of you."

Ironically, having arguably been slated as the man primed to understudy Heaslip last term, instead it was Blackrock rival Jordi Murphy who ultimately snaffled that role when Conan broke his ankle.

Murphy would end the season with Six Nations and Pro12 medals jangling in his pocket while Conan clenched his knuckles, carrying only pockets of regret. The tables turned his season; Conan has seized the chance with gleeful hands. Hands of understated power and subtlety, too.

Those delicate yet destructive mitts produced an audacious offload in Thomond Park last Friday, providing Leinster's only crumb of Christmas cheer on a miserable afternoon for a side who continue to lurch from promise to incompetence like a seasonal reveller who's had one too many snifters of port.

The pass out the side that set up Leinster's consolation try screamed class.

It's one of the reasons we like Conan within these sporting sheets; and not just because Tony Ward of this parish had a not insignificant role to play in guiding the St Gerard's School alumnus into the big, bad world of professionalism.

His side need to fire both barrels this weekend after being wildly off target last weekend.

Leinster have been outside the play-offs for much of this term and will remained marooned beyond the top four again should Ulster bag a rare Dublin win this weekend.

A repeat of their dismal display in Limerick would make that a more than likely possibility, with Conan bemoaning the breakdown where Munster, again, bullied the blue-clad boys into meek submission.


"Our physicality in general wasn't up to scratch and in the tackle area we were a bit too high which let them get on the front-foot, dominate the collisions which made our job as forwards to make hits a bit harder.

"If we had got lower earlier it would have helped us a lot. They were just quicker to the breakdown. They won the corner which allowed them to get on the front foot which caused us a lot of trouble."

Leinster announced yesterday more dispiriting news on the injury front, albeit it heightens Conan's recent impact, after they confirmed that Kevin McLaughlin will require shoulder surgery, ruling him out for 12 weeks.

Dominic Ryan is still being assessed under the return-to-play protocols on the back of the injury sustained in the first half against Munster.

"Against Ulster, I expect another physical match," adds Conan. "We know what they are going to bring to the table because they are always one of the most difficult sides to play against.

"It's a chance for us to right a few wrongs. If you look back two weeks ago against Connacht we were a lot better so we'll try to emulate that a bit more come Saturday."

Patience, or the lack of it, remains a common theme in the capital.

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