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'I'm as ready as I've ever been': Conan hungry to make up for 2015

The Leinster number eight is in the form of his career and wants to start at the base of Ireland’s scrum at the World Cup.

JACK CONAN IS taken aback when it’s put to him that his Ireland debut came almost four years ago to the day, as he started the 2015 World Cup warm-up win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium.

He was part of Joe Schmidt’s pre-season plans that summer, but ultimately had to watch the tournament from afar when he failed to make the plane. This time around, though, Conan is in a completely different position and is driven to make up for what he missed four years ago.

Ross Ford and Jack Conan Conan making his debut against Scotland in 2015. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Not only has Conan become an integral part of Leinster’s recent success, but the number eight’s consistently excellent form has furthered his case for a World Cup ticket and the 27-year-old is now pushing CJ Stander for that jersey harder than ever.

Conan, having benefitted from an injury-free run, has built up a considerable head of steam over the last 18 months and his performances in blue last season have provided evidence of the improvements across all facets of his game.

While Stander has been a consistent performer for Ireland, and certainly never let Schmidt down, Conan has shown he can offer something different from the base of the scrum.

With an excellent skillset and work-rate, the 14-time capped international has developed into a potent ball-carrying threat and has worked on his lineout work to add another string to his bow.

While the presence of both Jamie Heaslip and, more recently, Stander in the Ireland team has restricted Conan’s opportunities, he made three appearances during this year’s Six Nations and is hoping to really stake his claim in the coming weeks.

“I was pretty gutted last time not to get the nod but I was in a massively different position to what I’m in now,” he says. “I look back now and the back-rowers that were in that World Cup squad had a lot more experience than me and they were all a good bit older than myself, other than Jordi [Murphy] and then Rhys [Ruddock].

A vastly different position to what I’m in now. I’ve a lot more experience, I’ve played at such a higher level compared to back then. I’ve 14-odd caps to by name at this stage and I’ve matured a lot as a player. This time around is a lot different and now I’m really coming into my own performance-wise.

Conan wasn’t involved in Ireland’s first warm-up fixture against Italy last weekend and after a long pre-season stretch, is understandably keen to get his opportunity against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Coming off the back of another standout season with Leinster, the former St Gerard’s man is now also showing his quality on the international stage and is firmly knocking on the door.

“I try not to get too caught up in it or get too worried about it,” he says of selection.

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“Joe does what Joe wants to do. I think it’s just about being at my best. He’s been willing to pick me for the last few months and given me opportunities so hopefully, I don’t do anything in the next few weeks to turn his favour against me.

Dublin City Sportsfest 2019 Launch Conan is a Dublin City Sportsfest 2019 ambassador. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

“Just keep on playing on the way I am. The performances you’ve put in in the past is money in the bank in some regard and if you show that you can produce at a certain level, it definitely makes the coaches trust you that bit more.

“They can rely on you to perform in those high-pressure situations so they know that in the height of it come Japan that you’re strong enough to get through those testing times.”

Conan has never been short on confidence and the Leinster back row now believes this is his time.

“I think it goes back to what I said earlier about that money in the bank and I think I’ve shown that in the last while, albeit on a team perspective,” he continues.

Probably some of the occasions haven’t gone the way we wanted but I think I’ve held myself in good regard and I’ve done what I’ve been asked to do and it’s just about repaying that faith if I get that opportunity again.

“People always ask, ‘Do you want to get ahead of CJ?’ and say I want to be playing number eight. I think I’m in the best part of my career so far. I feel good, I feel fresh and physically, I’m in the best shape that I have been in years.

“I think I’m as ready as I’ve ever been. That’s not to say down the line I won’t be more ready or performing, playing better or maximising my own potential. I’m happy with where I am, it’s the best I’ve been but there’s still more to come.”

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Ryan Bailey

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