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Analysis: Andrew Conway delivers a brilliant wing display for Ireland

The 28-year-old Munster man defended well, chased hard and made good decisions.

ANDREW CONWAY’S IMPACT on Ireland’s win over Wales yesterday started in the opening seconds.

Johnny Sexton hung an excellent kick-off to the right-hand side just outside the Wales 22 and Conway chased hard to chop down Hadleigh Parkes without delay.

Chase

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Immediately, the Welsh were under pressure thanks to Conway’s chase and tackle.

In a way, this early involvement for Conway sums up what the Munster man is all about.

He has possessed searing pace, clinical finishing skills, and the ability to beat defenders since his youth but he has worked hard to become a more rounded wing over the past six or seven years.

Yesterday, Conway delivered a complete wing’s performance and was, arguably, the best player on the pitch. 

There were reminders of his individual attacking qualities but the 28-year-old offered so much more than just excitement with ball in hand. Finally installed as a starting wing for Ireland in the opening two rounds of this Six Nations, the durable and consistent Conway has taken his chances.

Yesterday’s showing makes Conway a must-pick in Ireland’s number 14 jersey even with the impressive return of Keith Earls off the bench at outside centre against Wales, where he reminded us of his own class.

But Conway’s all-action tour de force on the right edge was impossible to ignore.

He was superb on kick-chase from that first kick-off, while he managed to bat the ball back under Irish kicks on two occasions, one example coming below.

AC

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With their ball-carrying having stalled in the Wales half, Ireland opt to go to their box-kicking game through scrum-half Conor Murray, who gets more than four seconds of hang time on his kick as Conway gets upfield and underneath the ball.

What might have a deeply frustrating moment of Ireland kicking the ball away turns into an unstructured attacking opportunity as Conway gets his right hand up to bat it backwards with his second touch.

Showing his energy, Conway reloads onto the right touchline and accepts the offload from James Ryan.

Conway only had two opportunities to demonstrate his fielding skills in this game but delivered quality on both occasions.

He calmly claimed a Welsh box kick in the backfield in the second half but far more eye-catching was the catch we see below in the first half.

RS

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It’s a good restart from Dan Biggar but an even better take from Conway.

Technically, this is excellent work from the Ireland wing.

Angle

As highlighted above, Conway’s approach angle to the dropping ball isn’t completely straight-on. He takes something of a ‘J angle’ as he curves his line along the ground to ensure he gets up to field the ball in a slightly more side-on manner.

It reduces the risk of the ball bouncing forwards off him, while also leaving him in a safer and more secure position in the air. 

Conway calmly and patiently chops his feet as he slowly works towards the landing point, his eyes never coming off the ball. Conway’s last two steps before going up are more urgent as he generates some explosive, elastic energy and leaps off his left foot…

3

As he goes up, Conway gets his leading right knee high…

4

He has the hard points of his right-hand side – hip and knee – in front, providing him with a bit of security and dissuading Wales’ Josh Adams from leaping with more intent.

Conway goes for an overhead catching technique, extended his arms up towards the ball and well clear of Adams underneath him.

As the ball lands in towards his left arm, Conway is then able to reel it down into his torso as he comes to ground off balance due to Adams’ contact.

5

Conway crawls forward for a couple of inches before being met by Alun Wyn Jones.

It’s a superb bit of fielding from Conway and means Ireland deal with an excellent Welsh restart with composure.

Defensively, Conway had some very impactful involvements in this game.

101

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Ireland opt to leave Conway with lots of space to defend in this instance off a scrum, with Wales’ Tomos Williams luring in opposite number Murray with a dart before he passes to Adams.

It’s a pressurised one-on-one tackle for Conway against Adams, who has made a mug of many opponents in recent times, but the Ireland wing does very well.

Having initially stalled very briefly to ensure Murray has Williams covered on his inside, Conway intelligently keeps moving towards Adams, closing down the space between them and keeping his feet alive underneath himself.

Conway

If Conway plants early here, Adams will beat him but the Ireland wing continues to move his feet as he closes in on the Welshman before he ducks in low – underneath Adams’ fend attempt – and wraps his arms tight around Adams’ right leg, dragging him to ground.

Murray works across and looks for a turnover but is penalised for not releasing after being the assist tackler. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent tackle from Conway.

Conway had two dominant tackles in this game too, one of which we see below as he comes in off his right wing.

Hit

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Wales have held great width out to the left touchline and look to move the ball there via a link pass by Jake Ball to Hadleigh Parkes.

Conway is on the edge of Ireland’s frontline defence as Parkes assesses his options.

Edge

Justin Tipuric is out of shot in the 15-metre channel here, so the opportunity for Wales is clear. If Parkes can get the ball into the hands of Johnny McNicholl [red above] here, Ireland will probably be in trouble.

But Parkes looks to really fix Cian Healy in the defence before he passes and Conway makes a proactive and aggressive decision.

As Parkes gets to the point below, the likelihood of a long pass wide to Aaron Wainwright [blue below] is slim.

33

Conway, therefore, makes the decision to close up and in on Ken Owens as Parkes instead opts to pass shorter to his hooker.

The Ireland wing buries his left shoulder into Owens’ midriff as he receives the ball, tucking his head to the far side of the Wales hooker, and following through with power for a dominant hit that allows CJ Stander and Healy to attack the ball on the ground. 

Conway did register two missed tackles in this game, but one of those saw him slipping off an attempt on Parkes as he chased a restart almost identical to the one at the very top of this article. With team-mates behind him, going hard was worth the risk for Conway.

His other miss was on a pirouetting Taulupe Faletau on the right touchline in the second half. Again, there were lots of other Irish defenders around him, but Conway will likely feel he should have completed the low tackle on Wales’ number eight.

Conway had nine carries in total in this game and it was interesting to see Ireland use him to carry directly from two first-half lineouts.

Conway Hit

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We see the first instance above, as Ireland use a 6+1 set-up at the lineout with scrum-half Murray situated just inside the 15-metre line…

Murray

… before he breaks out across it as Peter O’Mahony passes away from a dummy maul.

Murray links to Conway on his outside and the intent from Ireland seems to be to get swiftly to the gainline in the ‘seam’ between the Wales lineout and their defensive line. Tipuric makes a good tackle but Conway does breach the gainline and Ireland play out the second phase of their pre-planned attack.

Just a few minutes later, Conway carries in the same channel – although this one doesn’t seem quite as planned.

Carry

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Ireland run a 4+1 lineout this time, with Murray coming from the other 15-metre line to accept the ball off the top from O’Mahony.

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With Stander [white below], Tadhg Furlong [red], and Josh van der Flier [yellow] set up amongst the backs, it looks like Ireland have an intricate power play lined up.

SP

Any sense that Ireland will look to strike in midfield or go wide on first phase evaporates swiftly though, as Murray and Conway make a read on the move.

Owens, who is the Welsh ‘tailgunner’ – the defender coming from the defensive lineout ‘receiver’ position – begins working hard out over the 15-metre line [red below.

Straight

Murray and Conway recognise that as the scrum-half draws in Dillon Lewis from the back of the Wales lineout and drops a short pass to Conway, who accelerates to Owens’ exposed inside shoulder [white above].

Owens does readjust for a rescuing tackle but Conway again gets over the gainline. It’s not clear exactly what Ireland had planned here, but they make yards through Conway only to be choke-tackled on the next phase. 

Conway did also get the ball out on his right wing on several occasions and he invariably did well. Good passing from Ireland’s backs finds him in space in the instance below.

Chip

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It was notable how both wing pair Conway and Jacob Stockdale very often kicked on the edges of the Ireland attack, keen to ensure they applied further pressure on Wales rather than dying in possession.

Conway’s decision-making is intelligent in this example as he recognises the opportunity to chip ahead.

Chip

Wales have been operating with a 13+2 defensive system, meaning two players stay in the backfield, and Conway recognises that Biggar [red above] is now closing up on him from the backfield, while Leigh Halfpenny [white] looks to work cross-field in response.

The space behind Biggar opens up and Conway calmly finds it with a deft chip over the advancing Biggar.

Conway would have hoped for the ball to stay infield in this instance so he could pressure Halfpenny and possibly tackle him into touch.

But the Welsh lineout leaves them under pressure anyway and scrum-half Tomos Williams drops the ball just in front of his tryline, allowing Ireland to score through Tadhg Furlong from the ensuing five-metre scrum.

Conway grubber-kicked ahead down the right in a similar manner in the second half, but his most memorable touch with the boot was a clearance from just outside Ireland’s 22 in the first half.

Clear

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The initial decision-making from Sexton is superb. 

The Ireland out-half is set to clear himself from Murray’s pass, but he recognises that Biggar is coming hard at his right foot looking for a blockdown or perhaps to pressure a short pass to Robbie Henshaw.

Biggar

With scrum-half Williams not quite working as hard as he could on the inside, Sexton recognises an opportunity and dummies the kick before straightening up to the inside of Biggar.

Wales wing McNicholl bites in on Henshaw in response [red below] and Sexton has the vision to loft a bridge pass up over McNicholl and wide to Conway in space.

Pass

Williams scampers across to cover Conway but the Ireland wing produces a wonderful low banana kick that skids across the ground in front of the deep-lying Halfpenny and into touch.

Kick

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With Conway having worked so hard throughout the game for Ireland, it was fitting that he notched the bonus-point try with his team’s final proper attack of the game.

We examined the fine work done on the inside to create the chance for Conway in an earlier piece, but it’s a solid finish to give the Munster man a very respectable record of 10 tries in 20 Tests so far for Ireland.

Finish

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Larmour’s pass leaves Conway with plenty of space wide on the right but he does the basics well, shifting the ball to his outside arm and freeing his inside arm to fend McNicholl.

It’s an unfussy finish from a player who tends to get the job done consistently effectively, and a nice way for Conway to cap a complete wing performance for Ireland.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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