Sunday 20 January 2019

Brendan Fanning: This week Jack Conan must feel like a Garda transferred from downtown to a rural outpost

6 March 2018; Jack Conan makes his way to Ireland Rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
6 March 2018; Jack Conan makes his way to Ireland Rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Jack Conan clearly likes his day job. And doing it against the Guinness PRO 14 champions is better than going to work against the minnows.

But being told he would be on Leinster duty tomorrow night against Scarlets in Llanelli must have been the equivalent of a Garda being transferred from downtown to a rural outpost. And he hasn't done a lot wrong.

Iain Henderson too will be feeling a bit bruised, as often happens when bodies are climbing over each other to get into starting xv. At least the Ulster second row will be getting a gallop in Lansdowne Road. And given his ordinary run out against this opposition in Murrayfield last season he won't be short of motivation when that time comes.

The other shuffling in the squad was clearly signposted. But in sticking with Devin Toner ahead of Henderson, and giving Jordi Murphy his first involvement of the campaign ahead of Conan, the coach has had one eye on reward, and the other on horses for courses.

Having started against Italy, Conan only got 13 minutes against Wales. In that run off the bench his primary stats of two carries, two tackles, and no concessions on either turnovers or penalties, told a short story of a fella who did ok.

Against a Scotland side however who are bucking the modern trend of skipping the contest at the breakdown, Schmidt wanted another groundhog on his staff. Murphy gives him more of that than Conan.  And with three back row starters in Peter O'Mahony, Dan Leavy and CJ Stander - none of whom is an out-and-out seven - Murphy makes sense.

Moreover, it's a reward for a player who next season will be with Ulster. Two English clubs were in the mix when Murphy was figuring out his best option given Leinster weren't providing him with the game time he needed. Instead he agreed to go north - he thought he was heading up there to work with Les Kiss and Jono Gibbes - and even if he has no idea now who will be running the show up there at least it has kept the door open to Carton House.

Murphy was a bit player in the 2015 World Cup, and his decision to stay on the island was influenced by the prospect of being more than that in Japan.

Neither of these selections will please Gregor Townsend a whole lot. Toner was excellent against Wales, and his presence with James Ryan probably gives Schmidt his optimum lineout combination, along with O'Mahony.

And the addition of Murphy to the mix gives Ireland a greater range of options on the ground. It's hard for Conan to swallow - he is a fine, all round number eight - but he should he comforted by the knowledge that Twickenham will present a different set of circumstances.

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