Ireland: Jack Conan ‘feeling stronger and fitter’ after frustrating 2021/22 season

Colin Newboult

Ireland and Leinster number eight Jack Conan is looking to put a mixed 2021/22 campaign behind him and propel both club and country to glory.

The 30-year-old went from being a starting British and Irish Lion, who was the number eight for all three Tests in 2021, to being a bit-part player for Ireland in the historic series victory over New Zealand.

Caelan Doris was the preferred option at the base of the scrum, with Peter O’Mahony selected on the blindside, which meant Conan had to make do with a place on the bench.

Ups and downs of sport

“It’s just part of it, isn’t it? It’s constant ups and downs and the highs and lows of it all, it’s never plain sailing, it’s never just a straight path,” he told reporters.

“For several reasons I wasn’t physically where I needed to be, kinda Christmas of last year I felt I was a little bit off the pace, off the mark a little bit.

“So the first thing to try and get right is physically and I have definitely done that. I’m feeling incredibly fresh the last few weeks and I’m feeling stronger and fitter than I have in a long time, which is great.”

Conan duly left New Zealand with mixed emotions. Despite featuring in all three Tests and being pleased with the end result, the number eight felt he could have contributed more personally.

“I think firstly, delighted to be involved and to be down there and be part of such a great squad and make a bit of history,” he said.

“Obviously I would have loved to have had a bit more involvement than I did, but that’s just the way it is. I probably hadn’t done myself enough justice in the months previous to that, for a few different reasons.

“So look, it was what it was. At the end of the day I was just happy to be there and just happy to be involved. It was a great few weeks away with a good bunch of lads.

“It’s something that even when you retire, you’ll look back on to say you were part of that first ever Irish team to go down there and win a Test and then win a series.

“It was something really special. Grateful, but I think I left a little bit out there as well, which is a little bit disappointing on a personal note.”

Leinster ambitions

The Ireland back-row also has big ambitions at Leinster following a disappointing end to the previous season.

They were favourites for both the United Rugby Championship and Champions Cup titles, but succumbed to the Bulls and La Rochelle respectively to end it without any significant silverware.

“Winning makes you weak to some degree and now that we have gone last season without a win (trophy) for the first time since 2017, that bit of despair drives the desire massively,” he added.

“In 2017, when we came back in after that season we spoke about it as the ‘almost’ year. We almost made the final of Europe and the final of the league so it definitely makes lads a lot hungrier, and the coaches, not that you could ever question people in here, resting on their laurels because we have won previously.

“There is a constant desire to grow as a unit but we are definitely hungrier than we have been for a long time after going a season without any silverware.

“And being so close… Against La Rochelle we were 60 seconds away from winning that final. That makes it more hurtful. It stings. It’s a feeling we never want to have again and it spurs everyone on in this building.”

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