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'Something has clicked with Jack' - Conan a new force for Ireland

The 29-year-old number eight bolted all the way into the Lions Test team this year.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT’S FUNNY HOW quickly things can change in rugby. Jack Conan’s latest chapter is just another example.

Three rounds into the 2021 Six Nations, he got a 17-minute appearance off the bench for Ireland in their away win over Italy. It was his first cap in 18 months due to injury problems and subsequently inconsistent form.

Even with Caelan Doris injured, Conan was still behind CJ Stander in the number eight pecking order and he had to make do with a 16-minute replacement cameo in the win over Scotland two weekends later.

But then second row James Ryan was ruled out of the final game against England and a re-jig of Andy Farrell’s pack found Conan suddenly back in for his first Ireland start since before the 2019 World Cup, Stander shifting to the blindside as Tadhg Beirne moved to lock.

Conan delivered a superb showing in that victory over the English, scoring one try and freeing Keith Earls for another as he reminded everyone of his quality. 

Warren Gatland sat up and took notice, with Conan bolting all the way into the Lions Test team during the summer. The tourists didn’t get the best out of Conan’s rounded skillset but he returned with more self-belief and is now back in the Ireland number eight shirt for Saturday’s clash with Japan in Dublin.

“Something has clicked with Jack in the last 12 months,” said Ireland boss Farrell yesterday. “He had a torrid time with injuries.

“He was a little bit stop/start as far as the international arena was concerned, but something has clicked with him.

“He’s very comfortable in his own skin. He understands what his point of difference is and he’s certainly putting it out there on the field. In his first Test match of the season, hopefully he can hit the ground running.”

jack-conan Conan has 23 Ireland caps to his name. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Conan himself was also on media duty yesterday as he looked forward to this Japan clash and said his previous injury nightmares have made him more determined to make an impact.

“I have been fortunate that I have had a decent run with injuries the last while which always helps,” said Conan. “I have been able to put a few performances back-to-back. That does a lot for the head and for the confidence.

“I think now I’m trying to enjoy it more than I ever have and trying to take the stress out of it.

“After so many periods away from the game, you kind of realise how lucky you are to do what you do. To get the opportunity and privilege to play for your country is such a special thing.

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“So, I’m just trying to make the most of every opportunity I get to do it because I went two years to get a second cap and then it took me nearly another two years to get another cap after that [2019] World Cup experience.”

Conan is happy to admit he “definitely wasn’t” consistently at his best at times when Stander was Ireland’s incumbent at number eight but he does enjoy feeling the faith that Farrell and his coaching staff have in him now.

“I’m just going to do my utmost to stay where I am for the moment and enjoy it as well.”

He’s in an altogether different place than this time last year and one senses that there is still more to come from the 29-year-old Bray man.

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:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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