Monday blues for Jack Conan and Leinster after Scarlets loss
Ireland backrow says province lacked a killer instinct as they were beaten narrowly in Wales
Jack Conan after Leinster’s narrow defeat to the Scarlets. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Leinster’s Monday media days are a relatively revealing snapshot of the mood within their UCD headquarters, determined as this invariably is by the result over the previous weekend, and with players and coaches alike on message after their Monday review.
So it was that following on from last Saturday’s 23-21 loss to the Scarlets, Conan confirmed: “It is not exactly the most comfortable place on a Monday morning after a loss.”
He added: “We’re critical of each other and what we did wrong and we’re trying to be tough to be kind. You’ve got to take it on the chin and put your hand up. If you did make a mistake, you’ve got to learn from it.”
At face value a bonus point defeat away to last season’s beaten finalists at a ground where the Scarlets are unbeaten in 22 Guinness Pro14 games doesn’t appear the worst result in the world, all the more so with nine seasonal debutants amongst 11 changes.
But rustiness doesn’t cut any ice with double winners.
“To be honest with you, that’s probably the mindset of a smaller club,” said Conan. “That’s not a good enough excuse here, to say, ‘ah, I haven’t played in a few months. I was this. I was that.’ We walked off the pitch after losing and it felt like we had gone back a few years to where we were losing semi-finals. It didn’t feel like the first game of the year. It felt like as important as any other game.”
Conan and co were left to lament, in particular, the spell after half-time when leading 14-10 and failing to press home their one-man advantage with Samson Lee in the bin.
“For the first six or seven minutes, we had the numerical advantage. To go from 14-10 up to 23-14 down at one stage is massively disappointing. I don’t think we were ruthless enough. We didn’t have that killer instinct in us.”
While also admitting “defensively, we weren’t where we needed to be at times,” Conan regularly returned to the issue of Leinster’s ill-discipline “The biggest let down of the game was our indiscipline. It killed us. It (the penalty count) was 13-7 by the end of the game. It wasn’t good enough from us.”
Such was Conan’s scale of disappointment that it discoloured his view of his own performance. “If I had the greatest game, which I didn’t, and lost, I would have walked off the pitch disappointed. I haven’t really thought too much about how I played. The lungs felt good which is nice at the start of the year. The body got through it okay.
“But it was utterly disappointing to start my first game, a lot of the lads’ first game, with a loss. We can be so much better. We will be so much better.”
After turning 28 over the summer, this looks like something of a defining season in Conan’s career.
Jamie Heaslip having been sidelined, and now retired, last season was Conan’s most rewarding in a Leinster jersey. Although confined to last quarter cameos off the bench for the European Cup semi-final and final, Conan backed up his performance in the Pro14 final with a big game in the decisive third Test in Sydney. Known for his big ball-carrying and skill-set, he delivered hugely that night in defence.
But aside from the characteristically stiff backrow competition internationally, two fellow number eights, Max Deegan and now Caelan Doris, are amongst those knocking on the door at Leinster.
“Look, numerous amount of times I’ve sat here and said the strength of Leinster rugby is the depth of the squad and the talent. Caelan had a fantastic Under-20s campaign last year as captain. Even though the Under-20s didn’t do great, I think he’s a fantastic player. He’s 21-years-old, he’s already been capped for Leinster, and he’s definitely one for the future. He’s building nicely. In training he works hard, he’s willing to learn.”
“Look, we’re surrounded by talent. There’s no backrow in the squad that you go ‘oh, you’re not good enough’. Everyone is here for a reason because they’re of the standard of Leinster rugby. I’m looking forward to fighting it out with them. I don’t think there’s any givens in the squad.”
“We were even talking today about changing it up for the coming weeks and lads are going to be given opportunities so I think the second you take for granted where you are is the moment you’re going to be overtaken by someone else. It’s taken me long enough to get here and I definitely won’t be taking a step back and letting lads get ahead of me.”
Hence, a Pro14 game at home to the Dragons this Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm), could be significant over the course of the season.
“We’ve had two games where we’ve put in bit part performances, and now we’re looking at putting in an 80 minute performance. We’re going to have more lads coming back into the mix and getting game minutes and they’re going to add a different quality and another standard. We just have to be better than we were in the last two weeks.
“Everybody is unbelievably excited to get a run out in the RDS for the first time this year. It’s not very often that three games in we still haven’t played in the RDS so lads are kind of chomping at the bit to get out there on a Saturday afternoon and get to showcase what they have.”