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Donall Farmer/INPHO Jack Conan speaking to the media yesterday.
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Conan: Maybe somewhere else is better but I want to play for Leinster
The number eight is happy to fight for his place at the eastern province.

THE EASY OPTION would be to look for a move to one of the other provinces where first-team opportunities would be more forthcoming, but Jack Conan insists the competition at Leinster drives him on to be a better player.

The 24-year-old is one of eight international back row forwards currently on the books at the eastern province with the competition for places as high as ever at the RDS.

Since returning from a long-term injury layoff last November, Conan has worked his way back into the reckoning under Leo Cullen and his performances have been such that he was included in Joe Schmidt’s initial 40-man squad for the Six Nations.

Conan spent two weeks in camp at Carton House before being released back to Leinster last week for Sunday’s Pro12 victory over Treviso and he’ll line out in blue again this Friday when Edinburgh visit Dublin.

While delighted to receive the call-up, Conan is the type of player that always wants to push himself and he admits not taking that extra step is disappointing.

“If I was told back in November that I’d make the Ireland squad at all with the competition we have with the back rowers in the country I would have been delighted,” he says.

Jack Conan Dan Sheridan / INPHO Conan won his only Irish cap back in August 2015. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“But in saying that when I got there you realise that what you want is never enough. Obviously I got there and I was like it’s good to be here but I wanted to play and have a part in it. I want to get more caps.

“Saying that I’ve taken a few learnings from being in camp. The intensity and tempo that they play at and train at and hopefully I can apply it here to my own game and just a few things I wanted to clear up. Even though I’m happy enough with how I’ve performed over the last few weeks, it has obviously paid dividends with being selected, but I need to do that bit more to take the extra step and get my hands on a green jersey again.”

After making his Ireland debut against Scotland in August 2015, Conan’s career was on the cusp of taking off. He had announced himself two years previous, scoring a try just minutes into his first appearance for Leinster. Everything was heading on an upward trajectory.

And then injury struck. He completed 80 minutes just four times for the province last season after 10 weeks on the sideline with a broken foot and then a further three months out with an ankle complaint. In-between, he played once.

During the hours, weeks and months of monotonous rehab and marginal progress, Conan has watched his peers, the likes of Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy, establish themselves and earn international honours.

“Yes there’s more pressure on me but you want the pressure, you need that to be a better player and push you on,” he continues.

Jack Conan scores his third try of the game despite Kelian Galletier James Crombie / INPHO The former St Gerard's man scored a hat-trick against Montpellier last month. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“When life is too easy you kind of sit back and rest at your laurels. You need that dog biting at your heels the whole time and I’m certainly surrounded by it. In my eyes the competition and pressure is what makes me better.

“It is tough, every few months there seems to be someone else popping up to give a bit of extra competition but that raises the standard. Just look at the quality here at Leinster.”

With Conan excelling in a Leinster jersey over the last few months, there has been talk that a move away from the eastern province might help him further his career and improve his chances of being included in Schmidt’s plans going forward.

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When asked about the possibility of leaving Leinster, Conan added:

“It’s one of those things, if you make yourself the number one at Leinster, more often you’re going to be number one in the country that’s just the standard we bring her and the pedigree of back row within the province.

“If you want to be the best you have to train with them and play with them and learn off them and in my eyes this is the only place to do that. You could go somewhere else and play more but I’m not necessarily sure that would, maybe more immediately you’d be better, but down the line you wouldn’t have those learnings.

“Maybe somewhere else is better but I want to play for Leinster. For me I want to be the best player I can be and I want to be one of the best back rowers in Ireland. If I left and gave up on the opportunity to get ahead of someone, I wouldn’t be the best.”

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