Jack Conan: ‘There’s massive scope for me to get better’

Jack Conan is used to competition for places. He is a Leinster and Ireland back rower after all. So when the opportunity arises to start a Test match, the 25-year-old knows his only option is to take it and do his best to hang on.

Perhaps that is why Conan is candid about his performance at No.8 in Ireland’s series-deciding victory over the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.

Sitting back to admire one’s work is not conducive to staying in the selection frame and with the clock ticking to next year’s World Cup, the quest for improvement is essential.

Ireland took five back rowers and two lock-flankers to the last World Cup in 2015. Jamie Heaslip has been forced into retirement since then, Donnacha Ryan has moved to France, and Chris Henry appears to have faded from head coach Joe Schmidt’s thinking.

Yet the battle for places remains cut-throat.

As Conan looks back on a successful tour alongside Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Dan Leavy, and Jordi Murphy, he is aware Sean O’Brien, Josh van der Flier, and Rhys Ruddock have already returned to pre-season training with Leinster following the injuries that kept them from travelling Down Under.

Look, that’s the story of rugby,” Conan said. “People only get opportunities because of injuries. It’s tough to see the likes of Seanie and Josh, and Dan who wasn’t available today, all fantastic players who’ve put a marker down in international rugby.

“And yes, it’s mad to think that some of us haven‘t even finished our season and some of the lads are already back into pre-season.

“But when a coach comes to you and says ‘we’re going to give you this opportunity’, well, opportunities arise and you’ve got to take them. You need to grab them with both hands if you want to be trusted by the coaches and by the players, which I think is even more important, to give them more confidence that you’re not out of place, and you fit into the systems and the team.

On these massive days you have to make the most of these opportunities and play to your utmost. I’m not saying I did that, but I’m happy with how I performed and I don’t think I let myself down.

Conan was a lot happier with his 69-minute shift at No.8 compared to his 11 minutes off the bench in the series opener in Brisbane.

“I knew I needed to make the most of that opportunity I was given by Joe. Without any hesitation that was the biggest game of my career, by miles. It’s finals rugby, 1-1 in a Test series and I’ve been given an opportunity to go out there and play so it was an absolutely massive game for me.

“I really enjoyed it. I think I learned a lot. There’s massive scope for me to get better in how I perform but I don’t think I did myself an injustice and I’m happy enough with how I went in the 60-odd minutes I got to play.”

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