Jack Conan’s mixed experience in New Zealand and the effect of “ruthless rival” Sean O’Brien

Updated 5 hours ago

It’s been a historic summer for Irish rugby, but Jack Conan admits to leaving New Zealand with mixed feelings.

The Leinster backrower appeared in all three Tests as Andy Farrell became the first Irish team to win in New Zealand, before going better and taking the series.

However, Conan wanted more.

“I think first, I’m thrilled to be involved and to be there and to be part of such a great team and to make something of history,” he explains.

“Obviously I would have loved to have shared a little more than I did, but that is what it is. I may have not done myself enough in the months prior to that, for a few different reasons. Look, it was what it was. At the end of the day, I was Glad to be there and just happy to be in. It’s been a great few weeks with a good group of guys.

“It’s something that even when you retire, you’ll look back to say you were part of the first Irish team ever to go down there and win a Test and then win a series. It was something really special. Thankful, but I think I left a bit there too, which is disappointing A bit on a personal note.”

Konan, 30, continues to play an important role for the tourists, as he came off the bench in all three Tests against the All Blacks and scored a total of 56 minutes. However, last summer all three Tests for the British and Irish Lions began in South Africa. Between August 2021 and July 2022, something changed.

“It’s just part of it, isn’t it? It’s constant ups and downs and the highs and lows of it all, it’s never normal sailing, it’s just not a straight line.

Conan celebrates with Kylan Doris in New Zealand.

Source: Billy Stickland / INPHO

He continues, “I guess without getting into that,” for several reasons I wasn’t physically where I needed to be, at Christmas last year I felt like I was a little off the pace, a little off the mark. So the first thing we should try to do right is physically and I definitely did. I’ve been feeling incredibly refreshed the past few weeks and feeling stronger and fitter than I’ve been in a long time, which is great.”

Having had time to reflect on the post-New Zealand season, after debriefing with his partner, Ali, his Leinster teammates and the county’s first coach, Stuart Lancaster, Konan has honed some areas for improvement by trying to get the biggest impact on the games.

“It’s probably the impact that can have on both sides of the ball as I go forward. I know how good I can be when I get my hands on the ball to go forward in a small space and I can use my feet and start running in hard lines.

“But how much better I can be on the other side of the ball. How is my decision made when it comes to turning, something I have been trying to work on a lot over the past few months. This is probably the biggest area of ​​growth for me. I feel like I’m slowly improving. That It’s my main focus at the moment, trying to improve my game on the other side of the ball.”

After an extended summer sabbatical, Konan is now back at work with the Leinster side he started for the first time since 2017, in a new campaign without any defending title, and defeats to last season’s Champions Cup final and URC semi-finals continue. Hanging in the air at Dublin 4 Training Base.

Some new additions off the pitch should transform Leinster’s look this season. The former crusader Andrew Goodman succeeded Felipe Kontibumi as full-back coachwhile Sean O’Brien is a high-profile replacement for Dennis Lemmy as a communication skills coach.

O’Brien is a great addition to the coaching team and early word is that he is putting in a lot of effort trying to make Leinster more aggressive.

When Conan was breaking through for Leinster for the first time in mid-2010, O’Brien – five years his senior – was already an established Irish international.

“He was a ruthless competitor,” says Konan.

“He had that ability to hit a switch and then go onto the pitch, and those little moments of controlled aggression that he was able to bring into everything he did were something that always stood out to me when I was playing with him or seeing him train.

I also think the thing he talks about a lot is communication. You can always hear him, even now when he’s on the sidelines. His ability to have small conversations on the go during training or in games was really impressive. This may seem like a small thing, but it allows others to be on the same page with you, it allows the boys to get off the line defensively together, and it allows the boys to be in proper shape to attack.

“So that little piece of communication is something he’s really trying to instill in the lads at the moment, along with a lot of other things.

“He’s a great asset to own, it’s great to be back in the building. He’s someone who the playing team and coaching staff have a great deal of respect and admiration for, for all he’s accomplished on the pitch during his career. To get that priceless experience and knowledge of rugby back in The building is fantastic and even in the last few weeks it has been a really integral part and has been a great addition. I hope over the next few weeks we can see more and more of that in the way we play.”

That ‘controlled aggressiveness’ and a bit of superiority isn’t an easy thing to add to the pack, but it’s something Leinster is clearly keen to achieve more of on the pitch.

Jack Conan backed by Sean O'Brien, Rob Kearney and Luke McGrath

Conan played alongside Sean O’Brien for both Leinster and Ireland.

Source: James Crombie / INPHO

“I think a lot of it is probably more thinking and behaviour,” Konan continues.

what are they
Really like?

Rare insights into the biggest sports names from the writers they know best. Listen to behind the lines Audio notation.

Become a member

“Like, there are no bad rugby players here. Everyone knows what they’re doing at this point, even the little boys, they’ve been around for long enough and they know when to whistle, deal with choice, things like that. But I think attitude and having that much. Being violent when you get your chance in those close quarters is something Seanie was always talking about and always mentioning.He has those little pre-workouts, just sharpening that ax all the time.

“I think the knowledge is there, but it’s about changing the situation and changing your intention when you get these opportunities.”

Leinster claimed a win, albeit an unconvincing one, in the new BKT United Rugby Championship season last weekend, surviving the Zebre Rally in the second half in northern Italy. On Friday, Benetton visits RDS on the back of an eye-catching defeat to Glasgow, but with a number of Ireland internationals expected to return to the mix, Leinster will be a strong candidate to make it a two-of-two as they look to build some. Early momentum in the league.

Given the way last year ended, they will not lack motivation during the first weeks of the new season.

“Winning makes you a bit weak, and now that we went last season without a (cup) win for the first time since 2017, that amount of desperation drives the desire in a big way,” Konan says.

“In 2017, when we came back after that season we talked about it as ‘almost’ the year. We’re close to getting to the European final and the League final, so it definitely makes the players hungrier, the coaches, it doesn’t mean you can question people here, and rely on their laurels because we have previously won.

“There is a constant desire to grow as a unit, but we are definitely hungrier than we have been in a long time after spending a season without any silver. And being so close… in front of La Rochelle, we were 60 seconds away from winning that final. That makes it even more damaging.” It stings. It’s a feeling we don’t want to feel again and it motivates everyone in this building.”

The42 is on Instagram! Press the button below on your phone to follow us!