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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019

Hungry Conan thrilled to slot back in alongside O'Mahony and Stander

The Leinster number eight is hoping to get more game-time in Cardiff next week.

Ryan Bailey reports from the Aviva Stadium

WHEN THE SAME cruel fate befell Josh van der Flier on Sunday afternoon as it did in Paris 12 months previous, Jack Conan’s early introduction forced Ireland into a back row reshuffle — but it wasn’t the first time the Leinster number eight had slotted in alongside Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander.

Conan’s arrival in the 24th minute for the unfortunate van der Flier — who suffered a knee injury — saw Stander shift to openside, with O’Mahony continuing at six. 

Jack Conan acknowledges the crowd after the game Conan made a big impression off the bench. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As both Joe Schmidt and Conan noted afterwards, the trio had operated in tandem before — albeit in a slightly different line-up with Stander at blindside and O’Mahony at seven — in the third Test victory over Australia in Sydney last summer.

It speaks volumes of Stander’s versatility that he produced the level of performance he did, not only after the reshuffle but in his first game back since suffering that nasty facial injury against England on the opening weekend. 

O’Mahony was relentless in his work-rate, hunting down blue jerseys and completing two trademark turnovers, while Conan brought physicality and dynamism off the bench, embellishing his 13th cap with a sixth international try.

After frustratingly missing out on a starting opportunity in Rome having picked up a training-ground injury that week, the 26-year-old was straining at the leash to get minutes under his belt at the Aviva yesterday.

“It was a bit of a shock,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be coming on so early. But it was good. It was a high-tempo game that suits me. I got my hands on the ball early and was able to make a lot of carries. That’s when I got my second wind.

“I felt that I hadn’t come off the bench so that was very good. The conditions had changed all day but at that stage, it was dry and allowed for a pretty up-tempo game. It suited us to make the heavy French forwards work hard around the pitch and paid dividends with scores we got in the first half.”

In a dominant performance from the Ireland forwards, led by man-of-the-match James Ryan and the grunt of the back row, Conan made eight carries for 20 metres and completed 15 tackles, second only behind Stander’s 16.

And his try, in the far corner shortly before half-time, extended Ireland’s lead on the scoreboard and reflected their authority in all facets, after Iain Henderson had brilliantly stripped Demba Bamba of possession.

“The injury was massively frustrating for me,” Conan continued. “Again, I didn’t expect to be coming on that early. I missed the Italy game and I was kind of undercooked minutes-wise in the last few weeks. It was probably a bit tougher on the lungs than it normally would have been, especially if I played against Italy.

Jack Conan scores scores a try despite Guilhem Guirado and Antoine Dupont He scored his sixth international try on Sunday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Yeah, great for me to get on early and to show what I’m about and show that I can fill that role on the bench and come on and that it can work seamlessly and we can fit myself, Pete and CJ all on the pitch at the one time as we did in Australia in that last Test.

“It was a huge day for me, massive day for the team and am looking forward to another big week.”

With concern over van der Flier’s injury, Dan Leavy struggling to shake off a troublesome calf problem and Conan preferred to Sean O’Brien against France, the Leinster number is in a good position to be involved again next week, potentially even as a starter.

“I thought we showed so much today about who we really are and quite similar to the ones we put in last year and even back in November,” he added.

I think it was good to get back to winning ways in that sort of fashion. And we owed it to ourselves and to everyone who comes to these game and watches.

“Obviously, it wasn’t perfect to let in those two tries at the end, that was disappointing but we made that step forward and it puts us in a great position going into Saturday afternoon.

“We had a massive wrong to right about the last time we played here and lost to England in the fashion that we did. We didn’t do ourselves any justice so it was great to come out today and show that was a slip and we are really back and we’re going forward.”

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Ryan Bailey

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