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Consistency is king for hard-working and high-ball-catching Conway

The 27-year-old has been putting time into the little details that make a big difference.

ANDREW CONWAY IS very honest about his development as a rugby player.

While he was one of the hottest prospects in Irish rugby as a schoolboy and U20 international, he had to wait until the age of 25 to get his senior Test debut – coming off the bench against England in the 2017 Six Nations.

Andrew Conway scores his sides first try despite the efforts of Dane Haylett-Petty Conway scores for Ireland against Australia back in June. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As he emerged from Blackrock College, many people would have predicted that he would make his Ireland bow much earlier, but Conway is quite clear in saying he wasn’t ready before his time came.

“I’d perform throughout my career in drips and drabs,” says the Munster man, who is hopeful of featuring for Ireland against Argentina on Saturday. 

“I’d have a good game then I’d have a few average games in a row without actually being consistent.

“That was the main thing - that upon reflection I was able to look at my preparation and realise that my preparation wasn’t consistent and that was bleeding into my game.

“It took a while to get there, to create a training regime outside of the set training facilities that was actually a smart way to train, a way that was actually going to improve me and just consistently chipping away, building blocks and getting better and better.

“So, to be honest with you it probably came at the right time. I probably wasn’t ready for it until it came.”

The Andrew Conway of today is a very different professional to the one of years gone by.

His consistency of performance is now at an all-time high, whether on the wing or at fullback.

While the now 27-year-old insists he’s not quite obsessed with rugby, he spends the majority of his time thinking about it and focusing on ways he can become a better player.

The little details matter.

Andrew Conway in the changing rooms ahead of the game Conway in the changing room before Ireland's win over Italy last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Something I’ve been looking at is the ball transfer in contact,” says Conway by way of example.

“If I beat someone off my right foot, am I getting the ball into my left hand and getting my right fend out? That was a weakness of mine, that I stepped off my right and the ball was staying in my right hand.”

Conway has become better at identifying the “small stuff” like that, then going to Munster attack and backs coach Felix Jones and putting together a plan with him to improve that aspect of his game.

Conway’s excellence in the air nowadays is a fine example of the power of “chipping away” at his skills.

He had a superb aerial take for Ireland against Italy last weekend, soaring to gather an Italian kick and sparking momentum into his team’s attacking play, leading to Luke McGrath’s try off a Jordan Larmour break.

Conway has been working hard in this area for years now, utilising high ball catch pads as an important tool, while also citing Munster assistant coach Jones waving flags in front of him in a bid to distract Conway as he works on his fielding.

“I was shocking in the air at the start,” says Conway. “I remember when I started playing for Leinster, I would be waiting for Isa [Nacewa]. He would know it was coming and he would start moving over from fullback and kind of say, ‘It’s okay, I’ve got you’.

“That was what made me work harder and harder. I remember even in Leinster doing high-ball stuff after training sessions with Joe [Schmidt].

“Joe is just standing there and you are there waiting under the kick. That’s harder than waiting under a kick in the Aviva or the RDS or wherever it was.”

Conway Conway makes an important aerial take for Ireland.

Again, consistency was the key for Conway.

“That skill is probably something that I have worked on the most over the years,” he continues. “It didn’t click one day, but slowly and surely you start getting it right. You start getting the cradle right and it comes together. It’s a constant work-on.

“I went after a ball at the weekend and I went out like that [he stretches his hands out in front of himself] and it went through the space. I didn’t have my cradle in tight.

“Those are the ones you want to be getting in international rugby. It’s one of my points of difference so I want to continue doing that.”

Conway says he is happy to play on the wing or at fullback for Ireland, having filled both roles with Munster at times over the past four seasons.

Hopeful of continuing to be a “viable option” in both positions, Conway just wants to play and keep getting better.

“My job is to be the best rugby player I can, whether that’s running the pitch with tries or whether it’s taking high balls or making my tackles or setting my defensive line from the width.

“There are so many different things that create a balanced rugby player, especially in this environment, to go out and do a job in the system.

“To be able to do both is great, to be able to have big moments, beat a defender and score a try in a big game is a huge thing. But probably just as big at this stage are the basics and being consistent at the basics.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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