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Andrew Conway continuing to push himself ahead of England date

David Kelly


Ireland's Andrew Conway. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland's Andrew Conway. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland's Andrew Conway. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Like steel tempered in fire, Andrew Conway has emerged as one of the shining stars of this championship campaign.

At once, he offers a source of regret for what might have been a more fulfilling career in green before now, particularly during the abortive World Cup campaign but also a cause for celebration, blazing a pathway for those who don't always get what they deserve when they first ride life's rodeo.

While still basking in the reflected glory - he, of course, assumes none of it - of quite his most competent, composed and complete international performance to date against Grand Slam champions Wales, he also wryly deflects any hint that this is a career crescendo.

"It's definitely up there," he says of his career graph; Saturday represented his 20th cap and, aside from a forgettable World Cup warm-up game, he has only tasted defeat once and has never lost in tournament play.

Until Wales, he had never started successive matches in the same position - and, in any event, had only managed the feat once - but, barring calamity, his place, and indeed the entire back three, will be secure for the next stage of what is now developing into a serious title challenge, regardless of what happens in Twickenham against England on Sunday week.

"There have been times when I've played consistent games," adds Conway, whose tenth international try secured the bonus point win against Wales in Andy Farrell's second outing as head coach.

"But whenever you score a try, it puts a gloss to it and it puts your name out there a little more compared to when you have a solid game. So there are different ways to look at it.

"But at international level, having a quality all-round game is just as important as those try-scoring elements."

From an opening smash on Hadleigh Parkes to his innovative banana kick which released defensive pressure, the former Leinster man impressed in all facets of the game, save a couple of missed tackles.

A noted admirer, Brian O'Driscoll, prompted a reminder of Conway's maturation from Blackrock schoolboy whizzkid to rounded international.

"I remember seeing this guy as a schoolboy in 2009 where he came and trained against Leinster in a Heineken Cup final week and he ripped us apart single-handedly," O'Driscoll said on ITV last weekend.

"I thought, 'If we can't contain a schoolboy, we're in serious trouble at the weekend'. He had to leave Leinster to reach his full potential but now we're seeing it.

"He's changed as a player: Before he had these wicked feet and was a real game-breaker, now he's become a complete player. Aerially, he's very good.

"Defensively he has been super-sound today and he knows where the try-line is, as all good wingers need to know. He's been a real standout performer for Ireland in the last six to eight months."

Aware of how commentary can deviate wildly even in successful times - he notes the over-reaction to the win against Scotland as an example - Conway takes it all in his stride.

"I am happy, I've been working hard for a long period of time on all of my game. Last week was a good day obviously.

"But if you rest on your laurels you're going to be in trouble. So it's just constantly trying to evolve, trying to get better, doing the hard work, the extras.

"Someone asked me last week can an old dog learn new tricks? But you have to be willing to constantly learn.

"Having a guy like Jordan Larmour coming into our squad, there is so much you can learn from a player like that by just training with them, picking their brains and doing extra bits and pieces with them.

"I'm happy with where my form is at currently but I still think there is more to go. There is more growth in me."

And growth in Ireland too; amidst the revisionism of the revisionism about the alarming dip in performances for a year or more, there is a keener awareness amongst the players that the coach's role effectively ends once the whistle blows.

"I don't think there has been a massive shift," says Conway, who struggled to persuade Schmidt of his worth in the final months of the Kiwi's reign.

"It's not like, 'right lads go out and do your thing and what will be, will be'; that's not the case at all. It's where the space is.

"Joe encouraged space as well, he wanted to make the game as easy as he could for us and that's done by where the space is and an acknowledgement of when something is on.

"There was also poor execution. You are going to get it wrong sometimes. I don't think it was necessarily a fear factor. Maybe we have loosened up a bit as a team."

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Irish Independent