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Ireland's Jack Conan keen to take his chance in last Lions Test audition

Warren Gatland says up to 70% of his Test side remains undecided.

Conan has done well at number eight so far.
Conan has done well at number eight so far.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WHILE A HANDFUL of Lions players can put their feet up this weekend feeling relatively safe in the knowledge that they’ve done enough to feature in the first Test against the Springboks, most of Warren Gatland’s squad will be on edge.

23 of them get a final shot at helping to make up their head coach’s mind on Saturday when the Lions face the Stormers in their last warm-up game ahead of what promises to be a brutal Test series.

Speaking today, Gatland said that 60 or 70% of his Test team is still to be decided and there’s no doubt that he will be weighing up a few different combinations in the back row.

As such, Ireland’s Jack Conan will be eager to show every ounce of his quality in the number eight jersey against the Stormers as he combines with Tadhg Beirne and Hamish Watson in a dynamic back row.

Conan has earned positive reviews from Gatland for his impact so far in this campaign but with Taulupe Faletau, Sam Simmonds, and possibly Tom Curry in contention for the number eight jersey, there is no certainty of Test involvement.

“Happy enough,” is Conan’s assessment of his Lions performances so far. “Some of those games are a bit stop-start and you probably don’t go through as many phases as you would like to get into your proper shape and to build a bit of momentum and to show what you’re really about.

“A lot of it is off-the-cuff, especially when you’re playing against the Sharks the other day and they go down to 14 men and it becomes a bit more open and a bit of a free-for-all, and that little bit more difficult to become structured.

jack-conan-and-bundee-aki Conan and Bundee Aki at Lions training. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So I’m happy enough with how I’ve gone. Getting that first start against Japan over in Scotland was great. Even though I didn’t last the full 80, I was happy with how it’s gone and I’ve trained hard.

“It’s just about continually putting your hand up every chance you get and at the moment there’s always more to do but I’m happy enough with how it’s gone.”

Conan watched last night’s defeat to South Africa A with great interest and said there was naturally a desire to be involved in that big occasion – the toughest task the Lions have faced so far – but he feels he will be prepared if called on for the Test series.

Conan has had starts against Japan and the Sharks, scoring a try against the latter and standing out versus the former.

“Running out at Murrayfield with my family there for the first time in a long time was really special and something that I will hold onto for the rest of my days,” said Conan.

That Japan game already seems like a long time ago as the Tests now loom. Conan says he’s only concerning himself with the task ahead on Saturday, knowing that he has the last chance to impress Gatland at number eight.

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Off the pitch, it has been a tour like no other but Conan said the Lions are making the best of being confined to their strict bubble.

jack-conan The Leinster man hopes to impress on Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Everyone makes an effort to hang out, obviously socially distanced and everything else, with all the Covid protocols,” said the Leinster man.

“Even this morning we had a bit of a coffee morning, Jamie George and Elliot Daly slinging a few coffees around and Josh Navidi got a little DJ deck with Tadhg Furlong and Tom Curry, and we were blasting out a few tunes.

 “So we’re definitely making the most of a strange situation but it’s been an enjoyable few weeks and I think it’s helped everyone bed in and get to know each other a little bit, the fact that we’re stuck here together and we only have ourselves to entertain each other.

 “So it’s been great and I think that’s shown on the pitch, the lads are working so hard for each other and that kind of team ethos and atmosphere that we’ve been able to build so quickly. So it’s been good on the pitch and off the pitch.”

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Murray Kinsella

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