Andrew Conway during an Ireland squad training session on Wednesday. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
all rounder

Scoring tries only a small part of the package for in-form Conway

The winger scored a hat-trick against Japan, but took as much pride from his work without the ball.

ANDREW CONWAY DOESN’T need to be reminded that the last time the All Blacks came to town, he didn’t get the nod.

The Munster player came on at centre during the win over Argentina on 10 November, 2018, and then scored a hat-trick from the wing against the USA on the 24th.

For that historic night on the 17th, however, he didn’t make the cut in Joe Schmidt’s squad. In fact, across 26 caps to date, he’s yet to play New Zealand at Test level.

Conway touches on that experience when asked to explain the reason for his current strong form, the 30-year-old notching a second hat-trick of his Ireland career against Japan last Saturday.

“Probably training plan, trying to get the balance between my training habits and not over-thinking it,” Conway explains, before referencing that 2018 autumn window. 

“Different stages of your career there’s an experience you can fall back on, there’s adapting and taking what’s been good and leaving what hasn’t served you. Just enjoying rugby I suppose and getting out there and taking it for what it is, a game of rugby.

“Sometimes they work out great, other times they don’t. From a wingers perspective I was at the end of three tries at the weekend… but it’s the other parts of the game that you wouldn’t necessarily see unless you are in camp and you really know what you are looking at.”

andrew-conway-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try Conway scored three tries against Japan last weekend. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

It’s something Conway highlights again and again. While scoring a hat-trick doesn’t do any harm when it comes to selection, he takes more pride in other aspects of his play.

“Of course it’s great to score. Don’t get me wrong, but sometimes other things are more satisfying,” he explains.

“I won’t go through every wicked detail but some things you’ve been working on, talking about it behind the scenes, you can put it into action in training. And then to be involved in different things… It is great to be on the end of scoring a try but to be able to add a few more strings to your bow and see a bit of positive gains in other areas that I might not necessarily have done before. That’s probably more satisfying.”

In this, he echoes the words of his head coach, Andy Farrell, who claimed that the defence was the best part of that nine-try thrashing of Japan.

“Defensive-wise the stuff that people would see is the communication, the ownership of systems from the width, the energy you give other people around you, that’s a massive thing – making the guy next to you feel good is so important in a rugby match,” Conway says. 

It makes it all go around really, especially from a defensive standpoint. If we are defending how we want to defend I’m probably making very few tackles but there are other involvements. There’s work rate off the ball. There’s multiple facets of the game that when you really analyse it and the way the coaches in here look at it, it’s certainly not just looking at the end of a try or who is carrying well, or who is tackling well.

“There’s multiple things that make the wheel go around. It’s really enjoyable to review things in such detail.”

Defence will of course be key against the All Blacks, but the win over Japan also highlighted that Ireland’s attacking game is at least moving in the right direction.

Amid those nine tries you had three for Conway and one for James Lowe – who found himself heavily involved all around the pitch – with both wingers crossing in the opening 15 minutes.

Conway and Lowe are two very different players, but it’s a combination that could help Ireland play to their strengths going forward. As both players showcased on Saturday, they know when to hold their position and when to go looking for the ball.

“Sometimes the ball doesn’t flow out to you and if you are out on the wing, sometimes the game can start and there are 15 minute where you get don’t a touch,” Conway continues.

But there are going to be opportunities for you in some way. (If) The ball doesn’t make it out and you just stand there waiting for it again – it can be a long first half before you have had any positive involvements. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

“Other times it is flowing out to you and you have 10 carries before half time. But it is trying to be smart and add value in different ways.

“And it’s being able to read the game. In that, experience will help. You feel like you’re out blind on the wing, there’s four defenders in front of you and none of our attackers are with us… That suggests to me that there is going to be space elsewhere, so off I go, have a little look or try and see who is where, and knowing our game plan, what shape we are going to be in, where we are possibly breaking, up the middle breaking a few tackles, trying to be on the end of some balls on the inside.”

Another interesting dynamic is that Ireland’s first choice wingers are not nailed down. As well as Conway and Lowe, you have Jordan Larmour, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Robert Baloucoune in the mix, while Jacob Stockdale will also have a say when he returns from injury.

“Coming in here (to camp), the great thing about this squad is a lot of people didn’t necessarily know where they stood in terms of the perceived pecking order.

“So to get picked (against Japan) was obviously brilliant and I just knew that was only half the battle. The bull of the battle is to then perform when you’re given the opportunity.

“It was obviously an enjoyable day and it was nice to be back playing in front of a full crowd and everything that goes with it. It was a positive day.

“It would be unbelievably exciting to play against them (New Zealand), they’re the standard bearers in world rugby for as long as I’ve ever been watching rugby. They’re an incredible rugby team so if I’m selected it would be amazing.” 

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella, and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland-Japan with the help of Japanese rugby expert Rich Freeman, while the lads also assess ‘Tier Two’ rugby two years out from the World Cup:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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