Holistic approach starting to pay rich dividends for Andrew Conway

Former schoolboy star has taken circuitous route to international rugby

A first start in his native Dublin, a fourth cap and the opening lodgement inscribed in his Test match try-scoring ledger ensured that Andrew Conway cut a relaxed, smiling figure as he considered an evening's work in the 38-3 victory over South Africa.

The 26-year-old right wing demonstrates endless patience with regard to enquiries as to why a schoolboy star took a more circuitous route to the national team than what many envisaged as the preordained pathway. He understands the line of questioning and why people wonder about how his journey to the national team stalled in cul-de-sacs of performance related issues.

Conway is honest and forthright about coming to terms with his own shortcomings as a player and how he adopted a more holistic view of how he needed to change on and off the pitch to chase down his dream of playing for Ireland. He champions the work of others to make him the player that he is, the extra hours spent alongside Munster backs' coach Felix Jones; passing and high ball work.

Munster's departing defence coach Jacques Nienaber was equally generous with time spent working on the player's tackle technique and defensive reads. The maturity of experience has taught him a more even emotional keel.


“Two or three years ago there was probably a shift in mindset,” admitted Conway. “I always trained hard and did my weights but I probably didn’t have the holistic side of it where I broke down my game and got in touch with coaches and put a plan together to do extras and try and improve in loads of different facets.

Diligent and disciplined

“So it wasn’t that I wasn’t committed to it before. I just added a few different pieces to it the last few years. I try to train as smart as I can and hard as I can on a weekly basis. A few extra passing sessions, do some high-ball stuff with Felix and kicking, stuff with Jacques D-wise and just being really consistent with it.

“As the season goes you pick up a few niggles, it is a rainy day in December and the easy option when you have been doing a few extras on the Wednesday and the body is tired is to think ‘ah,no, I’m actually grand’. One of the big things is being diligent and disciplined enough to stick those things out; always do the bits planned and in place and not go off task as the season goes on. That’s probably one of the things that helped me a lot.

There is a very specific way we play and there is so much detail involved with all the set plays and moves. There is a lot of responsibility on the players to be all over that

“One of the things I have learned is not to get too uppity with the big wins and not too low with the loss or the injury or whatever it might be, loss of form. As long as you are working hard and sticking to your processes it will come back. You grow with age. I’m delighted with how it went for us as a team and for myself.”

Conway relishes the challenge of the national camp, constantly been challenged and the massive emphasis placed on players to be pitch-perfect in knowing their roles on both sides of the ball. Unlike the provincial scene the scope to fine tune is finite and every minute in precious in preparing for a Test match.

Conway explained: “There is a very specific way we play and there is so much detail involved with all the set plays and moves. There is a lot of responsibility on the players to be all over that. It’s tough, don’t get me wrong. You’re watching video, having chats, constantly refining changes. Joe will see something in a video maybe one day and he’ll change up the move so you are constantly on your toes, but that is how we want it to be. It is a tough environment to train in because he is on you and on you; that’s what he wants.

“I’d assume this is his thought process, when you go out there you have had so much pressure put on you mentally Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, that you get a bit of freedom when you are out on the pitch, let the shackles off a bit.

“As long as you are doing your detail, know your detail coming into it, you can play. Sometimes they’ll call a run play from five metres out if that is where the space is. It’s tough but really good to play under.”

So what about the try? “It was a strange one. It was a bit of a hot potato and I went to grab it with a few of the South Africans. It kind of just opened up and I knew from about 15 [metres] out that I was going to get it in the corner, so it was a nice feeling.”

The challenge going forward is to continue to evolve as a player, not compare himself to anyone else, but to be the best he can; Saturday was a generous down payment in that respect.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer