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Thursday 21 November 2019

Conan shines on Leinster's darker days

Jack's stock couldn't be higher but he knows Warriors could spoil party

Jack Conan
Jack Conan
Inform Jack Conan bursts through the tackle of Arno Botha in their PRO14 semi-final

Jack Conan's stock couldn't be any higher right now with the two most important men in his working life - Leo Cullen and Joe Schmidt.

The number eight has put all the pieces of the game together, not on a run when Leinster are steam-rolling all those in their path, which would make his role easier, but on one during which the team is struggling to get by.

The fact is Jonathan Sexton, Garry Ringrose and Sean O'Brien have not been at their best in recent weeks.

Robbie Henshaw has been seriously compromised by injury and Dan Leavy won't be fit for a year.

It is in times of adversity when character is revealed and Conan has surely jumped to the forefront of Schmidt's mind for the World Cup.

The 26-year-old has added most of the mundane tools to his main talent as a carrier to overtake CJ Stander.

Concentration

The work rate, the concentration, the lineout precision have all jumped up.

"At the moment, it's all a mentality of don't believe the hype, don't believe the noise," he said.

Conan reached back to last Saturday to reveal how Leinster had to block out the media-driven narrative that could have caused them to make assumptions detrimental to their season.

"Last week when playing Munster, there were so many articles that Munster are struggling in their attack.

"We just had to ignore that nonsense," he said.

"We know how good they can be, we know their attack can be great on its day."

Whatever about the merits of that, Cronin was able to follow a fine show against Saracens with another against Munster.

The game-on-game excellence has not gone unnoticed and one more might just be the difference between one trophy and no trophy this season.

"I feel fit, the body is good, happy with the performances I've put in for Leinster," he said.

Conan doesn't put his rocketing standards up to anything other than "natural evolution".

"I probably haven't played that much for Leinster, but I've played a lot of big games," said Conan.

"When other lads have been playing, I've had time off and have been able to go into the video room and look at opposition and have a better understanding of what we need to do to beat them.

"Playing those big games brings the best out of you and those are the ones you want to be involved in for Leinster.

"I'm happy with where I'm at and, hopefully, we can push on this Saturday and finish the season on a high, which would be great, obviously, given the disappointment in Newcastle."

That will be easier said than done and Glasgow, like Saracens, are into the sort of shenanigans that can unsettle and undermine opposition.

Their coach, Dave Rennie, has brought the niggle of the Chiefs north to the Warriors.

Does it work? "I think it does work. I think it gets under people's skin and they lose focus," said Conan.

Reminder

He doesn't have to look too far over his shoulder for a reminder of how the best intentions can unravel in an instant.

"It is quite similar to what happened to us against Munster in December," said Conan.

"We went down there and they got under our skin, distracted us from playing our own game. There was indiscipline from us and that's why they won.

"We were only indisciplined because they got under our skin or we allowed them to get under our skin."

The game plan will be something similar to that which Leinster used to destroy Glasgow at Scotstoun in the Champions Cup in October 2017.

Basically, the forward pack, led by Cian Healy and Scott Fardy, put the Scots in a choke hold up front and never released the pressure.

"Glasgow are quite similar in that sense in that they can be quite in your face.

"If you let it get to you, it is going to distract you from your job and you're not going to be 100 per cent focused on the job in hand. We will obviously go in with the same mindset we had against Munster.

"We have to not let that phase us, just worry about us, celebrate our small victories and then execute our game plan."

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