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'If you have a bit of passion about it, then you enjoy it': Andrew Conway feeling the thrill of the chase

The in-form Ireland wing is thoroughly enjoying the process of fine-tuning his fundamentals.

THE UP AND under, poorly executed, is perhaps the tactic that will most quickly draw a collective groan from even the most patient of rugby crowds.

It’s a facet that comes with an increasing amount of moving parts. No longer a straight duel between high-fielders on the run, there are blocking lines, escorts and clumps of bodies around the ball’s landing zone.

When something’s off, it looks like the kicker or the primary chaser have been lazy or way off target. Yet when it all clicks together, there is usually acclaim in high volume from the stands.

Munster and Ireland wing Andrew Conway was the target of such applause during Ireland’s bonus point-win over Wales on Saturday, when the 28-year-old consistently managed to turn high ball into attacking ball for the hosts.

andrew-conway-and-josh-adams Conway and Josh Adams on Saturday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Conway is in one of the richest veins of form in his career and his superb display against Wales featured stand-out moments in a variety of aspects of his game. From dominant tackles to accurate kicking and, of course, a fine finish in the corner. The form can be chalked down to his constant willingness to go back and reassess his game, searching for any extra edge he can add along the way.

“I think if you’re settling off the back of getting a starting position, you’re selling yourself short,” says Conway, speaking as an ambassador for Pinergy as they unveiled their Free Friday initiative for electric vehicles.

Andy Farrell was succinct enough in his praise of the Dubliner after the win over Wales, saying simply: ‘he was outstanding both sides of the ball.’ Yet that brief summation is more than enough to hit the crux of what Conway has brought to the side while earning his first two Six Nations starts on his 19th and 20th caps.

Fundamentals to act as the bedrock for a side rediscovering a little flair. Fundamentals which Conway is working on with increasing fervour.

“I actually really enjoy that side of the game. I know it’s probably not the most prettiest thing to watch – chasing high balls – but if you embrace it, enjoy it and take pride in it, then it becomes something that you get good at. And then it’s an effective tool for the team to work with.

“I love doing high ball stuff, doing extras with the lads after, talking about it. Talking about their kicking; what we’re looking for, how I’m trying to enter into a contest to compete, why I’d go up with one hand sometimes as opposed to clean catching…

“All these different things, that if you have a bit of passion about it, then it makes you enjoy it and you do it regularly. That’s when you start seeing changes whenever you’re consistent.”

Conway’s one-handed reaches for dropping balls were especially noticeable against Wales, as he succeeded in slapping back possession that might otherwise have been lost on restart. It’s more than reflex that determines whether he goes after the pill with one hand or two.

“If I feel I haven’t been checked or the kick is long enough I can go up with good entry to it and try to take it with two hands. In a perfect world: you go up with two hands, you try to catch it clean.

blair-kinghorn-and-andrew-conway Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The ones you tap back, I suppose, are just that bit longer where you’re at such a place that you can’t catch it fully. So you just try and get a hand to it.

“The other one is, if there’s traffic around you and you’re getting little bumps while you’re almost a bit static waiting under it, it’s really hard to go up and catch a ball clean because there’s loads of lads doing enough to put you off it. Then you’re just trying to get a hand on it and get it back to where my team is.”

Conway is very happy to chat through the finer details of these elements of this game because he has worked to hone his craft, delving deep under the bonnet of his game and relishing the prospect of getting his hands dirty on the nuts and bolts.

Was it always this way? Or did he consciously learn to love it?

I remember doing them at first with Joe (Schmidt) in Leinster and being crap. So, so terrible. And even in games if I was playing on the right wing and the team who were box-kicking to me, Isa (Nacewa) would be playing at 15 would actually come over. If he was able to take it, he’d just take it. You wouldn’t really see that happen nowadays…

“Probably just through time, repetition, understanding that it was a big part of the game and seeing guys who were good at it level above me and how much of an impact it could have for the team.

“Once you start doing things and you get that bit better at it, you start wanting to do it more to see how good you can get at it.

“It changes over time. I remember about three years ago, it was probably when we were at our best at it because there was less escorting, there were more clean contests.

“In Munster… we became really good at it under Rassie and Jacques, then teams figured out, ‘this is a big ploy for them, how do we counteract that?’ They then start working on their side of the ball. For a while, it was a lot tougher to get into contests.

“Luckily enough, the refs started reffing it a bit there last week.

“Where, if I’m going after a ball at 100% and I get someone’s shoulder, that’s completely against the rules, but for some reason I almost think that referees were happy enough for that to happen because there wasn’t a collision in the air and they didn’t have to worry about the consequences of someone getting the collision wrong, so they would almost leave it off.

“It was only for the really obvious ones that you would get done. If I’m going for the ball and if someone has changed their line and makes contact with me even if neither of us are close to the ball, that’s a penalty. So I’m happy that they’re reffing it now.”

Though Ireland excelled in aerial contests through Conway’s work, Conor Murray’s boot and everyone in between, it was the cohesive look to their game that left everyone leaving the Aviva Stadium feeling upbeat about the prospects of Farrell’s side.

andrew-conway PINERGY’S ‘Free Friday’ gives residential customers the opportunity to enjoy free electric vehicle charging every Friday throughout 2020. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Like the kick-chase, however, Conway chalks the week-on-week upturn down to manifold elements. When they all click, and when the entire side helps to shoulder responsibility, then the expansive gameplan appears all the easier to execute.

“Just playing the space is the key thing. Wherever the space is, people want to go and find it. If that’s through the hands, that’s great. If it’s putting the ball the ball up in the air and getting after than that’s the case.

If you’re able to do it all as a team, then you’re going to be in a good spot, not putting all the responsibility on the 10s and 9s to exit for us, move to width, kick it from width, bringing a fullback up and going in behind him. 

“All those things are everyone’s responsibility, not just the coaches or the team leaders. Everyone’s there to help out, to pull their weight and give eyes to the lads inside, trying to organise them out the back, working hard early to give options.

“There’s so many things that go into it, I kind of laugh when you see people say, ‘it’s a simple game’. It’s not simple, there’s so much that goes into the simplicity of the outcome at the end.”

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Sean Farrell

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