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In-form Conor Oliver hitting new heights with Connacht

The 26-year-old joined the province from Munster in 2020.

Connacht flanker Conor Oliver.
Connacht flanker Conor Oliver.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AT CONNACHT, CONOR Oliver is beginning to feel right at home. 

The flanker played his underage rugby in Dublin before heading south to join the Munster Academy, climbing the ladder there to make 28 appearances for the senior side between 2016 and 2019. 

However with opportunities limited Oliver packed his bags again, joining Connacht in the summer of 2020.

He enjoyed a promising season with Andy Friend’s side last year but has kicked on again in this campaign, establishing himself as a key member of the squad. Part of that is down to becoming more comfortable in new surroundings, but Oliver also feels the style of rugby being encouraged at Connacht is better suited to his skillset.  

“There’s a different brand of rugby from the last few years I played in Munster,” Oliver explains.

And maybe a bit of adaptation on my part to go out there and kind of play with a bit more confidence. At the start of this season as well I feel the coaches were giving me a lot of confidence to go and kind of express myself and do things I want to do on the pitch. And I feel as if, not as if I have a free rein, but it’s a lot more expansive than I was maybe used to back in Munster.”

Small changes away from the training pitch have also helped.

“Mental preparation for me has been something that I have worked on a lot more this season, keeping a small training journal and stuff like that. I feel that’s one thing that could help confidence going into games and kind of reassurance that you are ready to play that match.

“We’ve got a guy, Jack Birtwhistle (performance skills coach), an Australian guy who came over and helped us with mental preparation and stuff, he was here last season as well so I worked closely enough with him and I found that’s maybe something that I had lacked or didn’t really pay enough attention to, maybe, last season and in previous ones.

conor-oliver-tackled-by-gavin-coombes-and-neil-cronin Oliver has already hit the 30-cap mark for Connacht. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So, the way it works for me is I have a checklist of things I want to get done during the week that are going to have me ready for the weekend because they’re extra things like tackles, extra carries, stuff like that.

“We have great coaches here who stay after the session and they set up different drills, and whatever you need to get done you can get done.

“So for me, say I have five things that I need to get done during the week on top of team training, if I have that checklist checked off I know for a fact that I am ready to play on the weekend, that I have done everything during the week to prepare me to play.”

The hard work is paying off. Midway through his second season out west, Oliver has already his the 30 cap mark for Connacht, and his impressive workrate has been singled out by head coach, Andy Friend.

“I’d like to think I’m a very high workrate player. I can play for 80 minutes easily, I don’t feel like I get too fatigued. 

And then this season I’m pretty happy with how I’m carrying the ball and getting quick yards from my carries, successful carries. Look, I’m getting a lot of carries, which probably helps the stats go up a bit!

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“If you have got 10 carries and six of them are good, it’s going to be a decent enough stat and maybe that’s something I’ve showed this season that has been better than in previous years.”

Oliver’s strong form this season has him well placed as Connacht head into a crucial run fixtures, beginning with Saturday’s home clash against Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup.

“Everyone is excited for this game. European weeks are just different. URC is a great competition but European weeks, these are the games that everyone wants to be playing in and everyone wants to be performing in.

“We are not shying away from the fact that we want to be the first Connacht team to get out of the pool stage and get to the play-offs. We have talked about this and it’s a massive aim for us as a squad and I think it is a great driver for the lads training this week and putting our best foot forward.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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