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Tuesday 18 September 2018

Blues' jumping Jack clash

Conan embracing the challenge for shirt by Deegan and Doris

Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets is tackled by Leinster’s Jack Conan during the Guinness PRO14 match at Parc y Scarlets
Hadleigh Parkes of Scarlets is tackled by Leinster’s Jack Conan during the Guinness PRO14 match at Parc y Scarlets

Jack Conan was all set to have the Leinster number eight shirt to himself.

At least, that is the outside view. It is not one shared by the fast-talking, affable athlete.

"They're your words that I had a free run at it, not mine," he shoots with typical humour.

Just when Jamie Heaslip had shuffled off into retirement and Jordi Murphy had upped roots to Ulster, Max Deegan and Caelan Doris have arrived with the kind of good intentions to make it a three-man battle for one shirt in the middle of the Leinster back-row.

"Look, numerous amounts of times I've sat here and said the strength of Leinster rugby is the depth of the squad and the talent," explained Conan.

Just 12 months ago, Deegan was touted as the next big thing in the position.

Natural

There is still plenty of time for the 2016 U20 World Player of the Year to make his move up the ranks.

The 22-year-old has grown in the last year and has natural physical tools that are gifted to the few. The profile of a James Ryan or a Jordan Larmour are the exceptions to the rule.

Could the extravagantly skilled Doris be that exception this season? He started ahead of Deegan against Cardiff in the first round of the PRO14.

But, a week later, he was playing for Leinster A against Ulster in the Celtic Cup.

"Obviously Caelan coming through, he had a fantastic U-20s campaign last year as captain," said Conan.

"Even though the U-20s didn't do great but I think personally, watching him, he's a fantastic player.

"He's 20-year-old. He's already been capped for Leinster. He started last week.

"He's definitely one for the future. He's building nicely. In training, he works hard. He's willing to learn."

The addition of Deegan (right) and Doris to the list of challengers is something Conan had come to expect rather than resent.

"Look, we're surrounded by talent. There's no back-row 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 him. I don't think there's any givens in the squad.

"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."

There is the individual and above that, there is the team. There is winning and there is losing.

The Scarlets reminded Leinster what it feels like to come out on the wrong end of the argument. There were excuses if you were inclined to reach for them.

"To be honest with you, that's probably the mindset of a smaller club," said Conan.

"That's not a good enough excuse here (at Leinster), 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 is a tough place to be losing to one of our biggest rivals. We're pretty harsh on ourselves. We have to be."

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