Jack Conan and Leinster fully expecting tough Connacht test

Number eight adamant there’s no danger of Cullen’s men underestimating rivals

Jack Conan projects sense and sensibility in evaluating personal performances of late and in appraising Friday night’s Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 first leg against Connacht at the Sportsground.

He’s been relatively lightly raced this season from a Leinster perspective, just five appearances –injury was a factor – in the blue jersey across the United Rugby Championship (URC) and Europe.

Conan started and finished Ireland’s Six Nations campaign in the run-on team but, after an indifferent display in the Stade de France, dropped to the bench for the games against Italy and then produced a try-scoring cameo at Twickenham.

He could seek refuge in perhaps being a little jaded after his exploits as the Lions Test No 8 last summer or more recently succumbing to a bout of Covid-19 over the Christmas period, but he doesn’t, instead owning any shortcomings.


“I underperformed by my own standards [in the Six Nation]. France away, it didn’t click for us. It didn’t click for me personally. I had a few moments that I look back upon; not that I didn’t give it my best, but it wasn’t the best result for me, and I made mistakes.

“It was nice to come back in by the end of it and even play my part against Italy and England and then get back on the starting team for Scotland. It’s never a smooth road, these campaigns, and playing rugby. There are a lot of ups and downs. You need to take the good with the bad and learn from it.”

Speaking of lessons, Conan and Leinster know that if they subscribe to the narrative that they can rock up to Galway with anything less than their best, Connacht, as they have done in the past, will administer a slap in the mush. It may be a two-legged tie, but the No 8 insists that no one’s looking past the first match.

“Next week is completely irrelevant. We’re all in, and all focused on Friday night in Galway, because we know that it’s knockout rugby. The last thing we need to do is come back to Dublin next week and be in a deficit [points wise] and needing something big.

Robust challenge

“European rugby brings the best out of everyone. We know they [Connacht] will be better than they have been in the last few weeks. They will be better than they showed against us a few weeks ago down in Galway,” a game that was skewed by an early red card.

Conan continued: “It will be a different atmosphere altogether. Those [Connacht] lads will be going out there, a bit of club history being made, so we are aware of the emotion that’s attached to it.”

He added that Leinster’s preparation has been detail-heavy so that they are primed for what will be a robust challenge.

The culture in training, the speed and tempo of the sessions, prepare Leinster for the match environment.

“Even though Stuart [Lancaster] does a lot of the training, Leo [Cullen] is constantly picking you up on little things and he’s constantly challenging you and the squad to be better. He is someone who holds the standards and the values of Leinster so highly. He’s the man who drives it throughout and instils it in everyone.

“He knows that we can never get too ahead of ourselves because he’s seen the good days with Leinster, but he’s also seen the bad days where he went years without winning anything.”

It’s doubtful then that Leinster will take anything for granted in Galway, an insurance policy against accidental damage to their European ambitions.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer