Conan making himself heard at back of scrum

Leinster No 8 Jack Conan.

Jack Conan doesn’t so much speak as project his voice around the room.

Champions Cup Pool 3

Montpellier v Leinster

Today: Altrad Stadium, 1pm

Referee: Luke Pearce

TV: Sky Sports

Bet: Montpellier 10/11, Leinster 10/11 Draw 17/1

It’s a trait that screams confidence though without undertones of arrogance. And it’s not new. Conan has been addressing the media in much the same manner ever since he was a rookie on the senior scene back in 2014.

Now 25, he has always been a straight talker and he said it very much as he saw it back in August when, reflecting on a bumper year in blue and green, he declared that his time for waiting in the back row queue was up.

“My time of being patient is over,” he announced.

It was and it wasn’t.

Jamie Heaslip’s ongoing absence through injury has allowed Conan pick up where he left off with Leinster with a collection of performances at No.8 that have solidified his status as the go-to man to the rear of the scrum.

But there has been no breakthrough with Ireland.

November may have delivered a fifth cap and a fourth try but both were pocketed against Fiji with Joe Schmidt remaining faithful to CJ Stander for the visits of South Africa and Argentina to Dublin.

CJ Stander.
CJ Stander.

“Obviously you want to be playing for Ireland and you want to wear that green jersey on matchday but what others do and who is picked ahead of me … in some regard that’s outside my control,” he reasons.

“For me, I don’t look outward and think, ‘Oh, I should be playing ahead of him’ or whatever. It’s about looking inward and seeing where you can improve. At the end of the day, if I’m the best player I can be then I’ll get picked and that’s fine.”

The situation at Leinster has been more clearcut.

With Heaslip’s appearance restricted to shots of him in civvies in the RDS stand on TV — and a talented but still inexperienced Max Deegan the only other fit and viable No.8 at the club — Conan has finally emerged as his own man.

He doesn’t shy from the fact that this emergence from Heaslip’s shadow has helped his development as a senior player whilst, in the same breath, lamenting his older colleagues enforced absence.

And he’s the first to admit that he still has a way to go.

Conan spoke of a tendency to ‘tap out’ mentally from games back in early December when he last had some face time with the media. And Schmidt highlighted a need for some extra impact in his tackling after the summer tour when he played all three Tests.

He’s happy with how all that is going.

“I think I’ve just become a bit more consistent. I’ve gone from having big moments in smaller games to being more consistent in big games, which is massively important for international standards. I’m doing as much as I can. I’ll have to see how it ends up.”

Another big shift at the Altrad Stadium today would be timely. Conan can moonlight at openside but he is used almost exclusively these days as a No.8 and that makes him a less attractive proposition for an international matchday 23 than others and that in the team’s most competitive neighbourhood.

Whatever about the Six Nations, Conan looks certain to play a key role in Leinster’s push for honours in its aftermath and the province can make life that bit easier for themselves come April by chalking up a sixth pool win this afternoon.

Leinster haven’t won on the continent since October of 2014 – when Conan featured for seven minutes in Castres – but it hasn’t been for the want of trying and they have already bested the English champions on their own turf in this competition this term.

“We put so much emphasis and hard work into those away games because they are harder games. For us, going to Exeter a few weeks ago, when they hadn’t lost in over 12 months at home, that was probably the toughest game so far we’ve had in Europe.

“When we are going away from home in Europe our backs are against the wall a bit. We don’t have our crowd, we’re not in the familiar setting of the RDS, so the lads’ effort and work-rate when we’re away from home is always a little bit higher.”

None more than Conan’s, maybe.


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