Conan puts his hand up for ‘massive opportunity’

Picture: David Fitzgerald

Jack Conan has been here before, handed an opportunity to make his mark in the white heat of a Test match and has not always made the most of it. 

This time around, the No.8 is determined to prove his worth as he steps into the role vacated by the injured CJ Stander.

Head coach Joe Schmidt had considered starting Sean O’Brien at No.8 and retaining Josh van der Flier at openside after a sterling performance in the face of a mighty English back-row display last week but Conan, despite his own misgivings about the impact he has made in an Ireland jersey, got the boss’s stamp of approval to start against Scotland tomorrow and he will instead partner O’Brien in the back row alongside Peter O’Mahony.

O’Brien, Schmidt admitted yesterday, “was the other option for us” at No.8 but he added: “Jack Conan started in the third Test in Australia and I thought he played really well. 

"And Jack has been going well… Jack Conan has rolled the sleeves up, did a good job in Australia and we’re hoping he does a really good job on Saturday.”

Clearly, the 26-year-old is eager to vindicate the head coach’s decision.

“It’s a massive opportunity for me,” Conan said following his first selection as a Six Nations starter.

“I’ve been waiting in the wings for so long and I probably haven’t performed at certain times.

“That day I came off the bench against Wales (in Dublin last season) and made a defensive error and let them back into the game.

The margins are so small at Test level so you just need to be at your best consistently.

“I’m excited, I’m looking forward to the weekend and it’s going to be a massive test for me and the squad. 

"I’m focused, I know what I have to do, I know the role that has been given to me by the coaches. Now it’s just about executing and bringing that physicality.

Conan, who will win his 12th Test cap at Murrayfield, is determined to be his own man rather than second-guess what an O’Brien or Stander would bring to the table for Ireland.

“I think it’s about being myself and not trying to emulate anyone else.

“I know what I do well, I can carry the ball, I can offload, I think defensively I’ve got a lot better over the last few years and that’s something I hope to bring this weekend, making collision-winning tackles in defence and to dominate collisions when I’m on the ball and connect up with the backs.

“I’m not worried about anyone else’s game or trying to do what CJ or anyone else who would have played at 8 before has done.

“It’s just worrying about what Jack Conan does and doing it to the best that I can.

“Everyone has a point to prove whenever you pull on a green jersey and none more so than myself.

“Obviously, I’ve limited exposure in it so every time I get it, it’s an opportunity to relish and make the most of it. I feel I’m probably more comfortable in blue just because I’ve played more in it.

“Hopefully there are a lot more opportunities for me starting with this weekend.

“Physically, I feel fit. I’m not carrying any injuries for the first time in a while so I feel like I’m at the peak of my powers, my body feels fit and ready to go.

“Once I have that confidence, it’s just about going out and playing.”

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