AMID ALL THE hubbub of the surprise tweaks made to Ireland’s starting line-up today, it was almost overlooked that Joe Schmidt was ready to hand out a brand new cap.
The matchday jersey for Andrew Conway was unexpected, yet anything but undeserved.
Untimely injuries prevented him from winning a Test debut earlier in this tournament. The Munster man has been in sensational form this season, bringing a relentless consistency and solidity to his game on top of the electric pace and acceleration he has always possessed.
Had Joe Schmidt been asked about Conway in the short window after announcing his team, he would surely have pointed to the Dubliner’s formidable aerial abilities as well.
In many ways, it’s surprising that Conway has had to wait until he is approaching his 26th birthday before getting the big call from Schmidt. Often, a player’s familiarity with the Kiwi coach’s methods has been a big leg up towards selection.
Conway had provincial honours under his belt before Schmidt arrived in Ireland, and then under his watch there were nights when the former Blackrock schoolboy simply lit up the RDS with his insatiable hunger for space and tries.
Those days are long gone of course. Conway’s applies his pace, power and solidity in red. And, as either a wing or fullback, has played an important role in the exceptional form of the southern province this season.
He’s a fully fledged Munster man… well, almost.
“He hasn’t developed a Limerick accent yet, so we’re sorting out a few elocution lessons for him,” comes the Tipperary drawl of Donnacha Ryan before turning serious to praise a provincial team-mate.
He deserves everything he gets. Because he’s a really hard worker, massive buy-in and he’s come up to training these last few weeks and he’s been very good, very energetic.
“Hopefully he gets his shot. It’s a massive occasion. Winning your first cap, you know, bit of nerves, but on the back of the work he’s done, hopefully he’ll get a run.”
The number 23 shirt has been somewhat cursed during this campaign for Ireland. Tommy Bowe wore it twice, getting dropped in between selections before fracturing his ankle last weekend. Andrew Trimble fractured his hand wearing the garment and even a hat-trick from Craig Gilroy wasn’t enough to earn him a recall.
Hopefully Conway will find it and Test rugby a snug fit.
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