‘I try to relish every moment’: Ireland’s Jack Conan grateful for opportunity against Italy

Having been ‘in and out of teams’ during his career, the player is keen to make the most of every game he is involved in

All has changed, changed utterly. Time was when the demarcation lines in Irish squads between them and us were clearly defined. It used to go so far as the replacements being treated as secondary to starting players, then it was the match-day squads and the rest, the so-called dirt-trackers who generally downed tools and enjoyed a night out or two. Not anymore.

This Irish squad has long since cultivated a one-for-all, all-for-one mentality. In providing the best version of themselves, every member of the squad has to contribute equally, be they starters, replacements or those on the outside.

Nor are Andy Farrell and the players just mouthing platitudes when they talk of everyone being a team player. They all buy into it, in part because they probably don’t have any real choice, but also because who doesn’t want to be part of such as successful team?

And the buy-in to this mentality is inextricably linked with the success of 19 wins in 20 Tests, or 31 wins in their last 34 matches over three years.


“Definitely,” concurs Jack Conan. “The needs of the many are greater than the needs of the few, so it’s important to fit in where you’re asked to play and do the role you’ve been asked to do.

“We’re very lucky that there are such good men in the group and good quality that no matter what is asked of people they do it and there’s no complaints. Whether Faz [Farrell] comes to you and says, look you’re going to be on the bench this week, you’re like: ‘Absolutely, I’ll do everything I can when I get my opportunity’.

“Whether it’s on the bench or starting, it’s about taking those opportunities and making the most of it, and that’s something that Faz echoed today at half-time about the subs coming on and lifting it again and not just fitting in but bringing tempo and that bit of individuality about why they’re getting picked and to show up when they get the opportunity.

“It’s an incredibly selfless group and you do what your team-mates and coaching staff ask of you and there’s never any complaints, and I think it’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful over the last few years because everyone wants to add to the value of the group.

Conan has had to buy in more than most. While a regular member of the squad in the series win in New Zealand, the Grand Slam and the World Cup, a dozen of his last 16 caps have been off the bench, and of the four starts, one was against Fiji and last Sunday’s 36-0 win at the Aviva was his third against Italy in the last two seasons. So he makes sure he enjoys every involvement.

“For all the things I’ve ever done in my career, whether it’s Leinster or playing for the Lions, it is the greatest honour to play for your country and it’s definitely something that’s not lost on me.

“I try to relish every moment I’m out there, no matter how much you’re ‘blowing’ or how tough it is, it’s something that comes and goes so quickly and I’ve had a lot of gaps in my career where I haven’t played.

“I’ve been in and out of teams – I have, by my own admission, underperformed at times and you’ve just got to savour it when you get the opportunity and make the most of it.

“I was talking to Caelan [Doris] there after the game and James Ryan asked how many caps I was on and I said 43 and then Caelan’s on 37 and there’s about six years between us and it just shows how in and out I’ve been over however many years. It’s something that I just try to make the most of and enjoy when I can.

Farrell is smart enough to understand the dynamics of a winning squad and both Conan and Ryan Baird deserved last Sunday’s relatively rare starts, with Doris sacrificing some of his running game at openside in a reconfigured backrow.

“For myself and Bairdo, to play six and eight is grand because that’s what we normally do but for Caelan to push into seven – something he’s done before but not very often – I thought he was excellent. He was all over the pitch and it’s testament to how hard he works.

“He’s incredibly fit and he gets around so much work and a lot of unseen work. I thought he was brilliant today. He was doing everything you expect a seven to do.

“He was getting over the ball, he was putting in good shots, he was carrying well, he’s so industrious and he gets around the pitch incredibly well and because he’s able to do that it allows myself and Bairdo to do our normal roles. No matter what backrow plays it’s always a joy to be out there with the lads so I thoroughly enjoyed my 80 minutes out there.”

Of course, there’s also a huge prize in the offing. Despite having three more games remaining in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, Ireland are uncomfortably short favourites to complete consecutive Grand Slams, something no Irish side in history has ever done before.

Asked if there was cautious optimism within the squad about achieving this feat, Conan said: “I don’t think there’s a cautious excitement, I think there are just expectations within the group of what we do with the moment in front of your face.

“Before last week, there was no chat of Wales, Scotland, England, anything like that; it was Italy, Italy, Italy. That was all that mattered to us and that will be the case this week. We’re fortunate to get a few days off now – rest, recover, come back into camp – and then it will all be about Wales the week after that.

“It’s great for people outside of the building and the environment and the squad, they can have that buzz all they want but if we don’t go out and perform and get the job done against Wales, then we kind of fall flat on our face.

“We’re not looking at all past that, we’re not looking past the moment in front of our faces and just being present and being the best versions of ourselves that we can be in every moment of the game. It doesn’t always happen and there were loads of mistakes today, but I think it’s a pretty good starting point where we’re at the moment.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times