Jack Conan excels for Ireland after finally getting his chance

Leinster number eight had not started an international since 2019 before Saturday

Jack Conan was one of the standout performers in Ireland’s Six Nations win over England. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Jack Conan was one of the standout performers in Ireland’s Six Nations win over England. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

This one time the truisms and clichés seemed less avoidable than usual and oddly appropriate. “Over the moon,” said Jack Conan. Why wouldn’t he be over the moon? Prior to this year the Irish number 8 had not played a game in the green since the 2019 World Cup.

His last two matches in this Championship had been bit parts. On Saturday he was entrusted with a lead role. But Conan has been around long enough to understand the dynamics of a squad system. Injury let him in. Not unusual. But take advantage is what he did.

“Well, if I’m realistic, if James Ryan doesn’t pick up that knock and Tadhg (Beirne) doesn’t move into the second row, I don’t play and that’s probably deserved because, to be fair to Tadhg, Will (Connors) and CJ (Stander), they’ve gone incredibly well in the last few weeks and I’ve just been doing my part off the bench. If it wasn’t for the injuries, I wouldn’t have been involved,” said Conan.

“But when Faz tapped me on the shoulder on Monday evening, Tuesday or whenever it was and said ‘look we’ve taken a few, you’re going to start.’ I was over the moon,” he said again.

As a pivotal player in Ireland’s two tries, the slap-back basketball style to a bolting Keith Earls and his own pick and dive over Luke Cowan-Dickie for a touchdown bookended an impressive return.

Conan goes over for a try. Photo: Niall Carson/AFP via Getty Images
Conan goes over for a try. Photo: Niall Carson/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s been such a long time,” said Conan. “I haven’t started for Ireland since the warm-up games against Wales in 2019, so it’s been a long road and there have been massive ups and downs.

“But it’s all worth it when you put in that performance for 80 minutes and you look around the room at your team-mates and everyone’s happy and knows the job they went out to do. It really doesn’t get any better than that.”

Rehearsed move

The lineout to Conan, thrown to the back and his hitting of the ball back to Earls in full charge mode though a welcoming gap before stepping England winger Jonny May was a rehearsed move, forged on the grounds of northwest Dublin at Abbotstown.

“We ran that move all week. I don’t think anyone expected it to work as well as it did,” said Conan.

“Tom Curry was the tail gunner in the lineout. But we had planned for him not to be there because that’s how England had set up during the campaign. So we thought it would be a free run. I would come around, catch the ball and have time to square up and take either an inside or outside option.

“Obviously the picture changed but, to be fair to Earlsy, all I did was pop the ball down to him. He did all the hard work and what an incredible finish from 40-odd metres out. Fair play to him, he was absolutely on the money.”

We can all agree on one thing: Conan, Earlsy and the Irish team were all “on the money” and deservingly “over the moon” too.

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