'Without any hesitation that was the biggest game of my career by miles'

Jack Conan took his opportunity on Saturday in Sydney as Ireland won their series Down Under.

Murray Kinsella reports from Sydney

IRELAND’S VICTORY IN their series decider against the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday was often about simple, old-fashioned work rate and aggression in defence.

While Jack Conan was off the pitch for the nerve-wracking final 12 minutes, he typified the Irish performance before that.

Jack Conan with Lukhan Tui Conan was impressive last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He was the busiest tackler across the 80 minutes for both teams, with 16 hits in total. The Ireland number eight wasn’t as prominent with ball in hand as he often is, but managed to fight for a strong average of 2.8 metres per carry across his five surges.

Handed a major opportunity by Joe Schmidt in a huge game for Ireland, Conan was understandably happy with how it went.

“Defensively, it’s always something I need to be conscious of,” said the former St Gerard’s School, Bray student. “It’s probably the thing I’ve been told to work most on.

“So, I was pretty happy with my performance. I made a good few hits but probably didn’t carry as much as I would have liked but I think I learned a lot out there today.

“Without any hesitation that was the biggest game of my career by miles. 1-1 in a Test series and I’ve been given an opportunity to go out there and play, so an absolutely massive game for me personally.

“I really enjoyed it. I think I learned a lot. I think there’s massive scope for me to get better in how I perform but I don’t think I did myself an injustice and I’m happy enough with how I went in the 60-odd minutes I got to play.”

An open and honest character who is well able to be self-critical but has never shied away from pointing out his strengths either, Conan feels he can still be more dominant in his ball-carrying and tackling, as well as winning the race to the breakdown more consistently.

That said, his big performance at Allianz Stadium should plant him more firmly in Schmidt’s favour moving forward.

Jack Conan and Jordi Murphy celebrate with the Lansdowne Cup after the game Conan and Murphy celebrate Ireland's Landsowne Cup success. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Fellow back rows and Ireland internationals Sean O’Brien, Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock are all back in pre-season training with Leinster, just a taster of the competition Conan faces.

“That’s the story of rugby,” said Conan. “It’s tough to see the likes of Seanie and Josh and Dan [Leavy], who wasn’t available today, all fantastic players who’ve put a marker down in international rugby.

“And yes, it’s mad to think that some of us haven‘t even finished our season and some of the lads are already back into pre-season.

“But when a coach comes to you and says, ‘We’re going to give you this opportunity’, well, opportunities arise and you’ve got to take them.

“You need to grab them with both hands going forward if you want to be trusted by the coaches and by the players, which I think is even more important, to give them more confidence that you’re not out of place, and you fit into the systems and the team.

“On these massive days, you have to make the most of these opportunities and play to your utmost. I’m not saying I did that today, but I’m happy with how I performed and I don’t think I let myself down.”

Conan believes that Ireland’s historic season is “only the start” for Schmidt’s men.

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“The strength in depth and the talent and the ability in this squad, we’re really going to go places in the coming years,” said the 25-year-old.

Jack Conan during the warm up Canon appreciated the depth of Ireland's back row options. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There is certainly plenty to look forward to for Ireland and Conan, as well as their supporters, but for now the Leinster man can put his feet up with the satisfaction of having pushed his international career forward and made life-long memories.

“The atmosphere in Melbourne was one of the best atmospheres of any sporting event I’ve ever been to and the same again in Sydney,” said Conan.

“I think it’s great that so many Irish people came out and obviously there’s an abundance of Irish people in Melbourne and in Sydney and all across Australia. They definitely made themselves heard and it definitely felt like a home game for us.

“To look around the stadium and see so many green jerseys and scarves was absolutely fantastic and it means a lot to the lads that people turned out the way they did.”

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