Incremental progress the name of the game for Andrew Conway
Versatile Munster back has worked hard on his game to progress at international level
Andrew Conway: “If you are playing wing and fullback and chopping and changing each week then it’s on me or whoever is doing that job to do it seamlessly.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan
Hard work without talent can often come up short in terms of reaping reward. But talent without hard work invites a more damning judgement.
Sometimes however it is more nuanced, not about the work ethic, more a case of working smarter.
Andrew Conway has never lacked ability, he has oodles, a prodigious talent dating back to his schooldays but, by his own admission, it took him a while to recognise that to maximise it he had to rethink his evolution as a player.
On Saturday, the 27-year-old is in pole position to win his ninth cap, potentially shifting from wing, where he played against Italy in Chicago, to fullback for the clash with Argentina at the Aviva Stadium. Conway made his Ireland debut in 2017, a statistic that would have seemed ludicrously belated to many when he first burst onto the senior rugby scene.
He though would beg to differ.
“I’d perform throughout my career in dribs and drabs. I’d have a good game then I’d have a few average games in a row without actually being consistent. That was the main thing, that upon reflection I was able to look at my preparation and realise my preparation wasn’t consistent and that was bleeding into my game.
“It took a while to get there, to create a training regime outside of the set training facilities that was actually a smart way to train, a way that was actually going to improve me and just consistently chipping away, building blocks and getting better and better. So, to be honest with you it [my Ireland debut] probably came at the right time. I probably wasn’t ready for it until it came.”
A catalyst for the accelerated development was moving from Leinster to Munster and in specific terms working with Felix Jones. Conway sought to analyse his game, bring any deficiencies he spotted to the Munster backs’ coach and together they worked ironing out the flaws.
He offered a few examples, about ball carrying in the wrong hand and also his aerial work.
“I was shocking in the air at the start. I remember when I started playing for Leinster I would be waiting for Isa. He would know it was coming and he would start moving over from fullback and kind of saying, ‘it’s okay, I’ve got you’.
“That was what made me work harder and harder. I remember even in Leinster doing high-ball stuff after training sessions with Joe [Schmidt]. That’s probably been something that I have worked on the most over the years. It didn’t click one day but slowly and surely you start getting it right.”
Conway’s versatility is in being able to play either wing or fullback but he knows he has to perform both roles to the highest standard.
“If you are playing wing and fullback and chopping and changing each week then it’s on me or whoever is doing that job to do it seamlessly.
“There is no excuse to be, ‘oh, he is a bit out of position at 15 this week because he was playing on the wing’. That’s not acceptable in an environment like this so there is responsibility there but that’s why you’re in here playing for Ireland.
“That’s why we are ranked number two in the world. The standards are so high that it’s an individual thing. It’s obviously good to be able to get into squads and cover both but a lot of people can do that at this stage. There are a few specific wingers and a few specific fullbacks but most guys can cover both – which I have been lucky enough to have done in the past.
“My job is to be the best rugby player I can, whether that’s running the [the length of] the pitch with tries, taking high balls, making my tackles or setting my defensive line.”
Focused hard work and talent, an ideal recipe for success.