MEETING JACK CONAN in person hammers home exactly how difficult a proposition he must be to defend against.
At 6ft 4ins and in the region of 115kg, the 22-year-old Leinster number eight is of typical proportions for modern professional rugby, and the sense is that he still has some growing to do, not only physically.
Conan has made quite the impact for O’Connor’s side this season, impressing with his abrasive ball carrying, powerful tackling, offloading and general energy around the pitch. Youthful exuberance with a welcome mean edge.
Having made his first Leinster start in February of this year – when he scored a try against the Cardiff Blues – Conan says he “can’t complain” about what has come since. Six more Leinster starts and five appearances off the bench, to be exact.
Despite the rapid progress, the Old Belvedere clubman has not lost sight of the need to keep getting better. Physically, Conan is already at ease in the Pro12, but there are other aspects of his game which he strives to improve.
“You can take the pressure off yourself when you’re there before it happens really, when you predict what’s going to happen. For me it’s that urgency, getting set that bit earlier and being able to read the game better.
“I suppose it comes with the experience and also coming in on Monday morning and doing your video work.
Still in his first season out of the academy, Conan is already well established at Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“You go back and see your mistakes and realise that if you were there that bit earlier that you mightn’t have missed that tackle or you could have been that bit wider and made someone else’s job easier.”
On a selection level, Jamie Heaslip’s presence at Leinster might hold Conan back, considering the Ireland international’s durability and ongoing consistency of performance.
However, Conan looks to the positives of competing with a player who has won multiple trophies and 69 Ireland caps. Again, it’s all about learning.
“He might point out that instead of being so tight to the ruck, be that bit wider so you can solve a few problems for yourself. Between Jamie and the coaches, you get a few of those things to work on.”
That Conan is already imposing himself for Leinster, in his first season out of the province’s academy, is down to his development in the Ulster Bank League, according to the man himself.
Conan was sensational in the AIL for Old Belvedere, particularly last season as the Dublin club came agonisingly close to securing their second-ever league title. Clontarf squeezed home, but Conan learned much.
Conan in Belvo colours back in 2012. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
“I think in my first year out of school, I was thrown in the deep end and I was playing AIL,” says the number eight.
“It helped me to develop and it’s a good level, with a huge amount of physicality in it. To play against lads who were bigger, who were a bit more experienced, and a lot more physical than myself, really helped me to grow quickly. I tribute where I am now to that.”
Furthermore, Conan believes there are many other Irish players who can follow in his footsteps.
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“You only have to look at the likes of Mick McGrath who’s here with us now in Leinster, also Darragh Fanning played for Mary’s a few years back, [Matt] Healy was at Lansdowne and he’s playing for Connacht now.
“It shows that there’s great talent within the AIL to come in and play in the Pro12 or go and get signed at home or abroad.”
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