Jack Conan tops stats charts for Blues brothers

Bearing the battle scars of an impressive individual performance in defeat - with nicks above and below his left eye - Jack Conan is quizzed at Leinster’s media briefing as to whether his own display offers some consolation after the St. Stephen’s Day loss to Munster.
Jack Conan tops stats charts for Blues brothers

The No 8 topped the stats charts for Leo Cullen’s side last Monday in terms of runs, offloads and defenders beaten, while he was level with Robbie Henshaw in metres run, in what was a fine solo show.

Conan, however, is more concerned about the Blues brothers overall performance.

“I got through a lot of work, it was one of the most physical games I’ve ever played… as I sit here now with my lovely face,” smiles the 24-year-old. “It was very physical, I am happy enough with how I went in parts. I made a few stupid mistakes I shouldn’t have, but I would rather I had a poor day than play okay and not have the win.”

Such an analysis is in keeping with the team ethos Conan espouses when questioned on the competition for places in the Leinster team.

Despite his display on Stephen’s Day, Cullen’s team announcement today could see Jamie Heaslip come back in at No 8 for Leinster’s second Guinness PRO12 interprovincial clash in the space of five days as they prepare to welcome Ulster to the RDS tomorrow.

Conan is magnanimous, however, when it comes to his rivalry with Heaslip, who was recently nominated for World Player of the Year.

“Look, Jamie playing at his best makes me better,” says the Belvedere man. “There is a good mindset within the back-row... the competition is massive. Everyone pushes each other. Jamie pushes me to be better and I’ll push Jamie to be better.

“Fair play to Jamie, he has been absolutely outstanding whether it be with Leinster or with Ireland. He has been absolutely outstanding whether he wins or gets nominated it for it. There is no bitterness there at all.

“He does make me better. He sets the bar for the back-rowers in the club and we are all trying to match it,” added Conan, who claimed that such competition does not lead to any acrimony in training.

Jack Conan wins a lineout for Leinster in their St Stephen’s day clash with Munster. INPHO/Gary Carr
Jack Conan wins a lineout for Leinster in their St Stephen’s day clash with Munster. INPHO/Gary Carr

“I wouldn’t say it is fiery. That’s not to the benefit of the team, for people to go out and being overly aggressive in training. No-one thinks ‘he is putting that bit more effort in’, that’s not how it works.

“We all push each other on. It is helpful and if there is any criticisms, it’s always constructive. Nobody ever tears anyone down.” More so, the mental challenge of overcoming injury problems in the past year has been Conan’s main struggle.

The 24-year-old’s career has been stop-start over the past 12 months due to foot and ankle injuries – the latter necessitating surgery last February before his full-time return to action in October.

“I feel like I am getting there and building week-in, week-out, and after such a long lay-off that’s all I can hope for,” he explains.

“My favourite part of the game is carrying the ball, something I am not bad at, sometimes it could be better and there things I need to work on but that’s where I see myself at, as a ball carrier.

“You are never going to be perfect. Like even [against Munster] there were still mistakes,” added Conan, whose recent figures back up the former part of his review more so than the latter.

However, with such fierce back-row competition at Leinster and Conan battling to get back on track after his injury woes, whispers of a move have often surrounded the 24-year-old, who remains keen on staying with his home province.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone from anywhere else. I know for me when I was growing up, I didn’t want to be a ‘professional’ rugby player, I wanted to be a Leinster player,” said Conan. “I’m a very loyal to this club and they’ve stuck by me.

“At times, they’ve given me opportunities when they didn’t necessarily need to. For the moment, I’m here and giving it my all and then I’ll see what happens down the line.” One of the most frustrating aspects of his lay-off has been the loss of the momentum he built in 2015, which saw him pick up a first Ireland cap in August of last year.

“There are times, even over the November internationals when you see lads getting caps, am I envious of them? Absolutely,” he admits.

“I would like to use that as fuel to the fire and something that pushes me on to be better and drives my want to get back in the green jersey and my want to get back and play rugby and play for Leinster,” added Conan ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Ulster.

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