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SOB, Henry and Toner helped Jack Conan prep for his Ireland debut

Leinster’s 23-year-old back row got his first taste of Test rugby against Scotland.

IT’S BEEN A rip-roaring 18 months for Jack Conan, culminating in his Ireland debut on Saturday as Joe Schmidt’s side saw off Scotland in their second World Cup warm-up fixture.

Jack Conan with Fraser Brown Conan started at blindside flanker on his Ireland debut. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 23-year-old wasn’t in his more familiar position of number eight, but was delighted to wear the six shirt as he notched an important milestone in his burgeoning career.

Those watching on from Anglesea Road would have taken some pride in seeing the 6ft 4ins back row striding out alongside Sean O’Brien and Devin Toner, although Conan’s Ulster Bank League performances in recent seasons had promised this development.

I’m not overly happy with how I performed,” said Old Belvedere man Conan after winning his first cap. “I did some good things and I did some things I probably shouldn’t have done, but all the same it was great to get my first cap.

“It’s a huge honour for me and my family, so I’m delighted to have gotten the nod from the coaching staff to go out and wear the green jersey.”

Having played for the Ireland Wolfhounds back in January and been with the group during this year’s Six Nations triumph, former St. Gerard’s student Conan has become accustomed to the demands on this Ireland squad.

Those training experiences, combined with 14 starts for Leinster, had prepared him well for his debut, even if the pace of the game against Scotland did at first seem daunting.

Jack Conan's jersey Conan's first Ireland shirt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I suppose it was my first taste of international rugby and it made me realise that everything is that bit quicker,” said Conan.

“Your moments of opportunity are that bit shorter, so if you’re not switched on completely the moment is going to pass you by. I think the pace of the game at the start caught me a bit by surprise, but once I settled into it I was fine and I was able to cope better.”

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Schmidt’s Ireland group is an open one, where players can lean on each other for analysis, lineout detail, and a whole range of other things in the build-up to games.

Conan certainly found that to be a hugely important factor during his preparation for his Test debut, with Sean O’Brien, Chris Henry and Devin Toner proving particularly willing to help.

“Looking back I probably annoyed a few of the lads during the week asking them so many questions about different roles and things,” said Conan with a smile. “But everyone was so helpful; Sean and Chris were brilliant.

“Any doubts I had, any questions I had, they were more than happy to sit down and talk me through it.

Jack Conan supported by Chris Henry and Devin Toner tackled by Gordon Reid Conan gets an offload away to the supporting Henry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I know Dev probably got the brunt of it with the lineout side. I was in his ear all week asking him questions but everyone is happy to oblige. I thank them a lot for getting me here.”

Ireland’s back row options are strong ahead of the World Cup, even without the unfortunately injured Tommy O’Donnell, but Conan is simply focused on improving his own game with every opportunity he gets.

If you look at the back row it’s an embarrassment of riches there and I’m the least experienced of everyone,” said Conan. “I’m just focused on the now and every opportunity I get in training to perform to a level that shows I’m ready for this level.

“Training is so sharp, it’s so much quicker and you really have to rise to that challenge. The standard is set so high, so when you’re in there you become a better player and learn things from other players.

“I’ll get back, look at the video and see the few mistakes I made. At this stage I just want to improve and get better. I’ll take this as a milestone and push on now, looking to be better as a player. ”

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Murray Kinsella

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