Monday 16 September 2019

Brendan Fanning: ''Rusty' Conan ready to move through gears ahead of big squad lift-off'

Wicklow man makes his mark as race for places on the plane to Japan now nears its endgame

Bundee Aki, supported by Ireland team-mate Dave Kearney, is tackled by Hallam Amos of Wales. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki, supported by Ireland team-mate Dave Kearney, is tackled by Hallam Amos of Wales. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

We wouldn't dwell normally on the unfairness of professional sport but as we near the end of the warm-up series, and with it the issuing of plane tickets for the World Cup, it's hard to pass this point without acknowledging the glaring disconnect between having to perform at the top of your game when the season hasn't even started and your preparation is for something to come later.

So Jack Conan ran out in the Principality weighed down by a couple of things: all of the above; plus the pressure induced by the awfulness of the Irish display in Twickenham. That's a fair amount of information to process when people are trying to knock you into the middle of next week.

"Yeah because if you go out and have a shocker then you probably will be getting a phone call - like I say, I don't know whether that will be a good or a bad thing!" the 27-year-old says.

"If you go out and underperform in this one then I think it makes decisions easier or harder, depending on where you stand in the rankings.

"I don't think anyone was looking past this game though. It was all about proving to ourselves that as bad as we thought we were last week, we've a lot more to show than what we put out against England."That much was acknowledged by Warren Gatland after the game. Well, sort of. It would have suited the Wales coach to sign off the Cardiff leg of his farewell tour with a win against the country he most likes beating - he claims that to be England, but is unconvincing.

So in the same sentence that he acknowledged the efficiency of the Irish set-piece and defence against Wales - vastly improved on what happened against England - he highlighted the absence of stress on his players in dealing with the Irish attack.

Jack Conan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack Conan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The shape of that attack has long been an issue. It was significant that the two Welsh tries came from stressing the Irish defence in their own 22 until the door opened wide enough to barge through it. Yes, Ireland scored three tries and won the game, but none reflected well on Ireland's ability to manipulate the Welsh defence. The penalty try was the result of the set scrum superiority; the other two down to good counter-attack and the awesome finishing rate of Jacob Stockdale.

Interestingly, the Irish aerial game has for the moment been parked as an attacking weapon, and struggles defensively. All of which highlights the stunted nature of the other front-foot stuff.

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Conan's role in changing that could be significant. Yet he is touch and go for inclusion in the squad of 31, the announcement of which for some reason is being delayed until next Sunday. It might make more sense to get that chore out of the way and spare the coach grief of trying to keep it under wraps. That way he could apply himself to getting more from his attack, which would benefit from having Conan at No 8. It was a reasonable return from him in Cardiff.

"First game back is always difficult," Conan says. "I hadn't got the opportunity to play and my first outing was a little bit slow at times. I'm glad I got through 80 minutes, I felt pretty fit.

"I thought I made some good collisions. I probably would have liked to carry a bit more but I thought across the pack, there weren't huge numbers. Obviously, Killer (Dave Kilcoyne) had a fantastic 45 minutes before he came off and he dominated the carrying stats but other than that, I think everyone was pretty low.

"I don't think I'm the outlier in the sense that I didn't carry as much as I would have liked. That was the way the game went. I slipped off one tackle early on, which was frustrating, but I think it's just blowing the cobwebs off and I'll be better for it next week, please God, we'll have to wait and see. I'm happy to come through fit and fine, a few mistakes, a bit rusty, but I feel like it won't take me long to pick up where I left off."

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