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Wednesday 14 November 2018

Conan must grasp opportunity in green

BIG CHANCE: Jack Conan
BIG CHANCE: Jack Conan

There will be no more motivated man in green than Jack Conan.

He was a man amongst boys for Ireland in Japan last summer as internationally unknown James Ryan and Dan Leavy also made their presence felt in less gripping circumstances.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has taken the opportunity to add to the pressure the Leinster number eight must feel for this one.

Munster's CJ Stander has been Schmidt's first choice in the position since he became Ireland qualified under the three-year residency rule.

The affable and entertaining Conan has been guilty of letting his concentration slip enough times to sow a seed of doubt in Schmidt's mind.

Then, there is the fact he has not been as relentless in his workload as South African-born Stander.

Whatever about the past, the Leinster back-row has been given the chance to show his authority in a very meaningful match.

"It's really up to Jack. He's got an opportunity," said Schmidt.

"He's a really good athlete, Jack, I think he's incredibly motivated.

"He can bring a physical edge - we saw that this time last year in both Tests against Japan."

There is no more explosive sight in Irish rugby than Conan cutting loose in the open.

He has the upper-body frame to burst through bodies and the leg speed to finish from a supporting line or all on his own.

Conan can be a superior force for good when Ireland get in behind because he has a natural nose for the whitewash.

But, it is in his ruck work and defensive awareness that he must marry aggression with accuracy against the twin threat of the dynamic duo David Pocock and Michael Hooper.

"Jack is up against two of the best fetchers in world rugby and the dynamic carrier that Hooper is as well," cautioned Schmidt.

"For Jack, as exciting as it is, it's also a little bit threatening.

"But, the comfort of having Pete (O'Mahony) and CJ Stander there, the experience they have, the combination that they've developed over a period of time, both in Munster and in Ireland, I'm hopeful that will offer some good confidence and support to Jack as he looks to really stamp an impression on the game."

There can be no better time to shine to leave Schmidt with an enduring memory of being a difference maker.

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