Tuesday 22 October 2019

Back-three come of age as Conway and Stockdale glad to silence the critics

Jacob Stockdale goes on the attack against Scotland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale goes on the attack against Scotland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Shortly before either team had emerged for their warm-ups, Andrew Conway carefully walked the perimeter of the pitch at the International Stadium in Yokohama.

With a ball in his hands, he meticulously took in his surroundings as he went through some mental cues.

The running track as well as the deep in-goal areas meant that this was a very different arena to what the Irish players were used to.

Conway's routine must have helped then when he scored the crucial bonus-point try in the corner, which ultimately killed off Scotland's slim hopes of mounting an unlikely comeback.

"Without going in to too much detail, you're just getting to know the pitch really and walking around and getting to know my surroundings," Conway explained.

"It's specifically to do with corners and turning on them and doing a bit of self-talk and a few affirmations."

This was a big day in Conway's career. He has long been destined for the world stage and although he took his time in getting here, as soon as his moment arrived he made sure that he didn't pass it up.

After so much talk about Ireland's back-three without the experience of Rob Kearney and Keith Earls, the trio who were picked came up trumps.

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Conway delivers for Ireland every time he plays, while Jacob Stockdale was a constant threat, especially with his trademark chip-and-chase attempts.

It was in defence that Stockdale excelled however. We all know what he is capable of going forward, but after a tough afternoon in Twickenham last month, the Ulster winger has since bounced back in fine style.

Jordan Larmour was rock-solid and put in his most assured performance yet at full-back. Comfortable under the high ball, Larmour mixed the basics with his usual attacking flair.

The 22-year-old will take a huge amount of confidence, particularly as he was so impressive in the air.

"I thought Jordan was brilliant," Stockdale enthused.

"He is a seriously dangerous player and he showed that. He also showed his really good back-field coverage and Andrew Conway on the other wing looked really dangerous as well."

Schmidt could easily have picked Conway at 15 rather than Larmour, but this has been a two-year plan in the making and the head coach's faith in Larmour yielded huge dividends.

There was plenty of talk about the back-three all last week, which was understandable given the calibre of players Ireland were without, but no one really doubted that Conway, Stockdale and Larmour could deliver.

"You can't really avoid it," Conway said of the external noise.

"As much as I won't go looking at what you guys (media) are saying leading in to the game, it's tough to avoid because other people like your family are (seeing it).

"You're definitely aware of it but I actually like that. Whenever you are... not written off but whenever there is a bit of panic media-wise when a few lads are out, it gives you a nice gesture to put it up to some people who don't think you are up to the task."

Something that was said clearly irked Conway but in this parish, he was praised for what he could add to the back-three. Stockdale though, echoed Conway's thoughts regarding the criticism from certain quarters.

"We hear everything. We see everything. It's just one of those things.

"If you have a bad defensive day then people say you can't defend. You have a bad attacking game and people say you're not ruthless in attack. That's just part of sport.

"I kind of liked it whenever people slagged me off because then I get to prove them wrong. That's kind of my mantra. Proving wrong and proving right is what I try to live by."

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