Falcons starlet Connon delighted to play his part in green

Brett Connon is used to the sound of Callum Chick’s voice. Clubmates at Newcastle Falcons, the pair are housemates as well.

Falcons starlet Connon delighted to play his part in green

The only thing that made their meeting at the club’s Kingston Park ground different two weeks ago was the fact that Chick was captaining England’s U20s and Connon was wearing green.

“I met him a couple of times when I was on the floor,” said Connon when asked if his choice of colours led to any verbals being lobbed in his direction during the visitors’ superb come-from-behind win.

“I took a little bit off him on the pitch.”

They were words that only added to the enjoyment. “Unbelievable,” was his assessment.

Connon is the latest in a thin but regular trickle of Exiles to have represented the land of his forefathers at the grade, his Dublin-born dad being the umbilical cord that binds while brother Grant lined out for the Ireland U18 club side a few years back.

He was only 12 when the older sibling got that call.

That always stuck with young Brett though, as a rugby-playing child of the north-east who gravitated towards the ten and 15 jerseys, he was always drawn towards Newcastle and England hero Jonny Wilkinson.

Mark Blair is the IRFU’s development manager for the Exiles. Brett was never off his radar after his brother’s call-up and he since has progressed through the same U18 trials right through to his present stint with Nigel Carolan’s U20s.

Last Friday week was, naturally, the highlight to date.

The game was just 22 minutes old when Connon was ushered in as a replacement for the injured Jimmy O’Brien. He made one try and kicked five points as Ireland overturned a 20-6 deficit to claim a first victory of the campaign in unlikely circumstances.

It was a particularly notable contribution given 18-year old out-half Johnny McPhillips, who left Newcastle Falcons to take up a place in Ulster’s academy last year, struggled from the tee through a Six Nations campaign that continues tomorrow in Donnybrook against Italy.

“I guess I’ve been waiting my time,” said Connon, who had cameos against Wales and France. “It came and I took it and I was happy with myself.

“You just have to keep doing what you do and your time will come. I was happy I performed when the time came.”

Like McPhillips, he wouldn’t say no to a switch across the Irish Sea.

Connon hasn’t harboured thoughts of representing the country of his birth, but others with similar lineage have.

That includes McPhillips who did so at U18s and Kieran Treadwell who played for Ireland at that grade before making the opposite switch.

Joining a province clearly wouldn’t be the worst move.

The young Exiles do pitch up on these shores.

They last did so early in the season when they basically acted as warm-ups for the four provincial sides before that quartet went in to battle against each other in the U20 Interpros.

That apart, it must be hard to get noticed, though he has made progress.

The professional clubs in England have access to young players earlier than in Ireland.

Connon was 15 when he joined Newcastle, played in an U18 quasi-national league and is now a dual-registered player with Blaydon RFC in England’s third tier.

He has also featured for the Falcons’ seniors, against Sale and Leicester in pre-season.

“You just have to trust the system,” he said of his burgeoning Irish ambitions.

“You know it is going to be tough because you don’t get seen as much, but there is a good link now between the Irish Exiles and the Ireland setup here.”

Ireland U20s: B Connon (Newcastle Falcons), H Keenan (UCD/Leinster), S Daly (Cork Con/Munster), C O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), J Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), J McPhillips (Queens University/Ulster), S Kerins (Sligo/Connacht); A Porter (UCD/Leinster), A McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), C O’Donnell (Sligo/Connacht), P Claffey (Galwegians/Connacht), J Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster C), C Gallagher (Sligo/Connacht), W Connors (UCD/Leinster), G Jones (UCD/Leinster)

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