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'You’re not borrowing this jersey for 80 minutes. You’ve got to think 'this is my jersey now''

Jack Conan admits it wasn’t a vintage performance, but the experience gained from a hard-fought win over Fiji will be hugely beneficial going forward.

Conan celebrates his try.
Conan celebrates his try.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

FOUR TRIES IN five isn’t a bad return for a back row forward, although the mere sight of CJ Stander being unleashed from the bench with the game in the balance was a reminder to Jack Conan of the battle he faces to keep that number eight jersey.

Conan showed all his athleticism and potency with a fine breakaway try to further stretch Ireland’s lead but because the collective performance was scrappy and error-laden, those auditioning on the big stage were left to wonder had they impressed sufficiently.

“It’s another step up physicality-wise, pace-wise, the margin for error is smaller, the window for timing is so much smaller so you have to be on it and so sharp ever single time,” Conan said post-match.

“It’s definitely a step up and it’s a few weeks since I played in that Ulster game so I was definitely blowing there a bit in the first half, but I got my second wind in the second half.”

His try was the standout moment.

Gathering the loose ball from his boot laces, Conan ran it home from 48 metres to create further daylight between the sides, only for Ireland to surrender that advantage and allow Fiji back into the contest.

It required two late Ian Keatley clutch penalties to ensure Joe Schmidt’s side maintained their momentum-building streak of six victories in as many Test matches.

“It’s one of those memories that we’ll share going down the line as a team,” Conan added.

“Last weekend we had more than 600 caps against South Africa and this weekend we only had about 200 so for such a young squad, a young 23, to dig deep I think will build the team even more down the line. It was fantastic to be part of that — obviously it wasn’t a vintage performance on our behalf, but any time you go out and get the win it’s great.”

Jack Conan breaks free on his way to scoring their third try Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

And certainly the general consensus is that a hard-fought 23-20 victory is far more instructive and beneficial than a 40-point rout would have been. For many in green, it was a steep, but valuable, learning curve.

“They [young players] were given their shot — it’s good for them, it’s good for the culture, it’s good for the team. We weren’t at our best, but I think the experience lads gained today is absolutely invaluable going forward.”

“When Joe tells you on the Monday or the Tuesday that you’re going to be involved, you’re not thinking that you’re borrowing this jersey from someone for 80 minutes. You’ve got to think that ‘this is my jersey now’ and do your best. Today, we weren’t at our best, but that’s rugby and you have to roll with the punches. It’s something to improve on and get better.”

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