Jack Conan’s pride and joy playing for Leinster

Montpellier’s billionaire owner Mohed Altrad hoped his expensively assembled team would send a message to the rest of European rugby on Saturday in the RDS.
Jack Conan’s pride and joy playing for Leinster

But the 24-17 full-time score, in favour of the home side, sent one of its own.

While the Top14 side had spent millions recruiting Louis Picamoles (including a rare transfer fee), Aaron Cruden and Ruan Pienaar, Leinster sent out a starting XV that included 13 homegrown players, and Robbie Henshaw. Isa Nacewa, the 35-year-old utility back, the outlier.

It seemed the perfect match-up for rugby philosophers; what matters most – unity and belief, or talent and cash?

Of course it’s an impossiblity to frame and possibly unfair question, but that doesn’t stop it being asked.

Jack Conan, Leinster’s back row who outshone Picamoles on Saturday, can’t imagine how it would feel playing for a foreign club and believes something special exists when playing with a group who dreamt of lining out in blue.

“It’s something that’s very difficult to replicate if you do leave where you come from,” he said.

“For me, there’s a great sense of pride when you play for Leinster. A lot of work went in for so many years before I got the opportunity to do it, and it was still never a guarantee that you would play for Leinster...if it’s something you’ve thought about, dreamed about, worked hard for for near enough a decade then I think it’s going to mean that little bit more to you.”

The Leinster Academy is enjoying a particularly fruitful period, with Conan, Josh van der Flier, Joey Carbery, Tadhg Furlong, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Adam Byrne, James Ryan and James Tracy among the recent graduates to start on Saturday.

“There are so many lads here who would be around my age and growing up we played so many games together, we know each other,” he said.

“We pride ourselves on how close we are as a team. When you’re coming up against a Montpellier pack that people might say is a better pack than Leinster’s, more physical, that shows a test of character and will.

“I’d hate to think that anyone would think we’re not as good as someone else, it’s nice to prove a point and say ‘if you think you’re going to come here and bully us that’s not going to be the way we’ll have it’.”

Leinster were battered, but not bullied, on Saturday, with Conan particularly eager to throw himself in harm’s way. He missed just one of 21 tackles on Saturday, an early dive at Picamoles’ feet before he began to overshadow his more illustrious opponent, and ended up carrying for 38 metres. “I’ll definitely look to have no missed tackles against Glasgow if I get the chance to play, but I think 21 tackles is good going,” he said. “I wouldn’t normally be that high - so it probably shows how much they had the ball and how hard we were working for each other.”

The win sets up a huge trip to Glasgow on Saturday, where Leinster know victory could have a serious effect on the Pool, with the Warriors already on thin ice after losing their opening game in Exeter.

“A few weeks ago, before the Munster win, we looked at this block of three games as massive and I think we started off on the right foot, we’ve built and we’ve gotten better and better,” he said. “I think the task this week will be so different to the weekend just gone. We know Glasgow will look to play with a much better tempo, but if we can bring the physicality that we brought to Montpellier on Saturday into Glasgow, with that higher tempo to our own game, then we’ll be in a good spot.”

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