Conway wants famous Toulon try to be part of a bigger story
Munster eager to reward travelling fans by booking a place in Champions Cup final
Munster’s Andrew Conway celebrates after the quarter-final victory over Toulon at Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
In his 93 games for Munster Andrew Conway has scored 29 tries but it’s doubtful if any have come close to the sheer audacious quality or importance of his match-winning, counterattacking, slaloming run off that catch by the touchline in the European Champions Cup quarter-final win over Toulon.
At a stroke, Conway became part of the Munster firmament for ever more.
As you’d expect from such a level-headed lad, whose career has blossomed with a virtual reinvention in his mid-20s after his eye-catching impact at under-20 level, Conway is taking it in his stride.
He appreciates the try’s importance, but would appreciate it even more if it were made to be even more significant come this Sunday’s semi-final against Racing 92 in Bordeaux (kick-off 4.15pm local time/3.15 Irish) and better still, come May 12th in Bilbao.
“Celebrating is great, it’s great to score and it’s great for it to have an effect on the result, but if I’m still watching it on You Tube and I’m thinking about it now, then it’s no good to me.”
“It would be great if we could look back on it at the end of May as being a pivotal moment in us winning the European Cup, but at this point it was a big moment in a quarter-final that got us to a semi. But now we’re in a semi and that’s a new challenge really.”
What made Conway’s overall performance against Toulon, and his finishing ability in the 76th minute, all the more remarkable was that he hadn’t played for ten weeks. Given he could well have been part of Ireland’s Grand Slam, it was also a timely tonic.
“Missing out on things like the Grand Slam, pending selection obviously, is tough and at the time you are watching the lads playing massive international matches that you might have been involved in, again pending selection, but you can only look at these things for so long.”
“You change the page and there is a new challenge and at this time of the year you have knock-out rugby if you get out of your group, so you miss out on a few big games internationally, but soon after there is a quarter-final to play in, so it is great to play in these big games.”
“That is why we all play rugby, that is why we train so hard and we want to get out of our group, especially getting a home quarter-final. Playing in Thomond Park in Europe is just different. You have all been there, there is just something different about it. So they are the big days you play for.”
Asked if he’d fancy meeting Leinster in the final, Conway smiled and admitted: “Yeah, it would be cool, wouldn’t it? Yeah, but we will think about that after Sunday, I’d say.”
Although a Blackrock product who started out with Leinster, when also asked what it would mean to him to make the Champions Cup final, he revealed he was at the Millennium Stadium in 2006 and 2008 when Munster beat Biarritz and Toulouse in the finals.
“It would be mad. I am not from here obviously, but I went to the 2006 and 2008 finals with my dad. Heineken Cup or European Cup finals are different. There is something magical with Munster in Europe that you can’t quite put your finger on. Last year going to Dublin for the Saracens game was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in front of, in my life. It’s so disappointing not to perform on those days because of what’s around you and your family are in the crowd.
“The crowd are on a different level and you want to play on those days as much as you can. They’re the days you’ll remember in 30 or 40 years and look back on as the special ones so hopefully Bordeaux is similar in terms of what the crowd bring but then it’s down to us to perform on the pitch. The crowd will definitely do something for us but they don’t win you semi-finals as we have seen last year, so we just need to perform.”
Conway is also honest enough to admit that Saracens, who beat Munster 26-10 in that semi-final at the Aviva Stadium and went on to retain their title in the final against Clermont, were at a different level that day.
“Saracens were a very, very good team last year,” says Conway. “They were ruthless and they were fit, and they were a tough, tough team to play against. That semi last year was probably the toughest came I’ve played in, in terms of just feeling constantly under pressure. Everything they did, they were all over you and Racing could be the same this weekend again. WE just need to be more prepared for it.”
Whatever about Racing scaling those heights, by rights, as Johann van Graan might contend, Munster should be better for last year’s experience. At times this season, if not always, it appears their game has evolved too.
“I think we are a better team,” said Conway. “You need to evolve. If we weren’t a better team we wouldn’t have got out of the group. You see that with everyone this year – with Leinster, with Scarlets – we’re all constantly evolving and the coaches are looking at where the game is going and we’re given direction on how to play and then you go out and it’s who performs better on a Saturday or Sunday really.”