Conan ready to finish on a high after Covid effects and 'stop-start' Six Nations

The 29-year-old made three starts as Ireland won the Triple Crown.

Conan is set for a big few months with Leinster.
Conan is set for a big few months with Leinster.
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

IF ALL GOES according to their current plan, Leinster are facing into 11 thrilling weekends of consecutive action.

Back-to-back ties with Connacht in Europe, a two-game tour to South Africa in the United Rugby Championship, the Champions Cup quarter-finals and semi-finals, then their final regular-season URC game against Munster. 

A week later, the Champions Cup final, then the quarter-finals, semi-finals, and Grand Final of the URC.

There’s obviously plenty of scope for the train to be derailed but Leinster’s players are excited about what lies ahead before they hope to be part of Ireland’s tour of New Zealand in July.

Number eight Jack Conan is among them and he’s looking to finish this season on a high, having had some frustrations in recent months.

“I had Covid over Christmas and that kinda gave me a kick up the arse,” says the Bray man. “When I got back to training, I definitely felt it in my lungs for a long time. I definitely felt like I struggled with that a little bit coming back in.

“I feel good now. I love being at Leinster. I love the challenge that’s ahead of us.  I’m excited to be back here. I feel physically good. I probably feel physically better than I have in the last few months.”

Conan was in Ireland camp throughout the Six Nations before returning to the Leinster jersey for last weekend’s win away to Munster.

The 29-year-old started three games for Ireland as they won their Triple Crown, coming off the bench in the other two.

“A bit stop-start,” is how Conan rates his Six Nations form. “Obviously frustrated, I underperformed by my own standards. France away, it didn’t click for us. It didn’t click for me personally.

peter-omahony-caelan-doris-josh-van-der-flier-and-jack-conan-celebrate-winning-with-the-triple-crown-trophy Conan won the Triple Crown with Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I had a few moments that I look back upon and I didn’t… not that I didn’t give it my best but it wasn’t the best result for me and I made mistakes.

“I found it to be a big learning curve. In saying that, I enjoyed it. It’s always great to be part of that group. It was nice to come back in by the end of it and even play my part against Italy and England and then get back on the starting team for Scotland.

“It’s never a smooth road, these campaigns, and playing rugby. There are a lot of ups and downs. You need to take the good with the bad and learn from it. I know I will be better for it.”

Like most of his Ireland team-mates, Conan has slotted back into life with Leinster rather seamlessly.

He says the sheer pace of Leinster training and the competition for places in the squad help that integration, meaning no one can come back to the province to put their feet up. 

Conan was also delighted with how calm Leinster were down in Thomond Park last time out.

“It’s a place we’ve gone down and capitulated before,” he explains, “where we’ve gotten yellow cards, red cards. We’ve engaged them in that bit of nitty-gritty stuff they like getting into.

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“We went down and we said, ‘It’s going to be about us, it’s going to be about our detail and our process. Then if they’re going to come with that kind of stuff, we’re just going to forget about it, move on to the next job.’

jack-conan-arrives-ahead-of-the-game The number eight credits the influence of Leo Cullen. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

“I think we were incredibly calm and that’s the thing I thought at the end of the 80 minutes, such a calm performance from us. We were never over the edge, we were never overrun or anything like that. It was just a very controlled and calm performance, very calculated and accurate.”

Leinster once again looked like an extremely well-coached team and while Stuart Lancaster deservedly gets much of the credit for what they do on the pitch, last weekend’s win was another notch in the belt of head coach Leo Cullen.

Conan says the former Leinster lock remains absolutely pivotal to their ongoing success.

“Even though Stuart does a lot of the training, Leo is constantly picking you up on little things and he’s constantly challenging the squad to be better,” says Conan. “He is someone who holds the standards and the values of Leinster so highly.

“He knows that we can never get too ahead of ourselves because he’s seen the good days with Leinster, but he’s also seen the bad days where he went years without winning anything.

“He’s the person who instills that humble value in us all – that you might think it’s good now, but if you don’t keep on pushing yourself and getting better, we can be so quickly back to not winning anything.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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