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Dublin: 8°C Sunday 16 May 2021

'It's going to be fun': Conway revelling in the competition under Farrell

Training and form carry a great deal more weight under Andy Farrell, the Munster wing says.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

COMPETITION, ENERGY, FLEXIBILITY. These have been the themes of Andy Farrell’s Ireland in the weeks leading up to a busy autumn schedule.

One feeds the other to form a symbiotic circle.

As Farrell announced his first team in eight months, players got a palpable feeling that places on that team-sheet were genuinely up for grabs.

While Joe Schmidt brought through a wealth of young talent into the Ireland team, there was often a notion that newcomers in a squad would be required to do their time in camp. The all-important details had to be known inside out. And the longer you worked under Schmidt, the better chance you had of nailing a given detail when put on the spot.

“I suppose perception is what we are dealing with really,” says Andrew Conway when asked if form felt more important than in previous seasons.

“I think the lads in previous times had done a body of work under Joe. He was really confident in them.

“And you can’t really blame him for that either. A lot of those senior guys have produced at the most important times over the last five or six years for Irish rugby. So, it was understandable why they had a bit more (credit) in the bank.

“But I suppose, to drive competition, I for one definitely don’t want to feel comfortable in a starting position at any level whether that is national or provincial.

“You want someone breathing down your neck. You want someone who comes in when you’re not playing provincial matches, whoever wears the 14 jersey, if I am up there and if Munster are playing, you want them playing really well because that applies pressure in a good way to me knowing that ‘Okay this guy is playing really well.’

“One, you are not resting on your laurels and two, whenever I get an opportunity out on the pitch, I need to be smashing it.

To be honest with you, there is a feeling that form will come into it, probably a bit more than it has in the past, which is great for everyone.”

With the caveat that a home match against Italy is perennially a prime opportunity to blood new talent, the four new caps that will take the field today take the number of debutants in Farrell’s short tenure to seven.

In the back three with Conway, Hugo Keenan’s rapid rise is a symbol of Farrell’s willingness to back a form man despite inexperience. Solid form with Leinster that was carried seamlessly into Ireland camp.

“You really feel that training is being looked at a lot,” says Conway. He emphasises that last word. And repeats it.

“A lot.

 So, it’s really important to come in and train both smart and to fit in quickly and find your feet really quickly. It’s great. That’s the way it should be, I suppose.”

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“I think maybe in previous years, I was in probably in a slightly different position, it maybe felt like it was going to be really tough to get into a team without an injury. No matter what you were up to in training I suppose.”

The Munster wing, who was given his first cap by Schmidt in 2017, stops himself to qualify that as a “presumption” and says he ‘could be wrong’.

“But you really are aware that the way we’re reviewing training is slightly different and we’re looking at a few different things around effort based codings to give tells of where guys’ fitness is at and how sharp they are.”

andrew-conway Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That’s the competition and the energy covered. Farrell has touched on the flexibility himself, but from Conway’s point of view the drive for it removes any feeling that game one is too soon to show off a good, cohesive attack.

“That’s international rugby, unless you’re going to the World Cup – which we did and it didn’t go so great there the last time we had plenty of time to get our attack together.

“It’s just about getting in and not having excuses that we only have a week or whatever. And just going to go ‘right lads, it’s time to nail down’.

“The best players, we’re being told, are the ones who learn quickest, adapt quickest, link up and create partnerships that look like they’ve been playing together for months in a week.”

All eyes on a new back three of Conway, fullback Jacob Stockdale and the versatile Keenan then.

“There’s going to be no excuses on our behalf that it’s the first we’ve played together, that’s not what we’re about.

“So, it;s going to be fun. I’m really looking forward to it.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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