Jack Conan: I’m not where I was, at stages last year19:54 Wednesday 6 December 2017, 19:54 6 Dec 2017
There seems to be a lot of self-flagellation going on around Leinster HQ leading into the biggest weekend of the season so far.
Centre Garry Ringrose has been picking his own performance apart from the weekend while Jack Conan's quite honest about the fact that he has yet to find his best form.
"I’m not where I was, at stages last year I feel," admitted Conan ahead of the back-to-back Champions Cup pool matches against Premiership champions and leaders Exeter.
"I was better, I was a bit more dynamic. I probably made more line breaks and had more of an influence on games. I was probably struggling a little bit for fitness [at the start of the season]. I felt like I wasn’t up to the standard that I was and not up to scratch really. That’s something I’ve worked on and corrected now and I feel good."
Conan's been a near ever-present for the Blues this season starting 7 games and coming off the bench 3 times in their 12 fixtures.
He also played 80 minutes and scored a try for Ireland in the Autumn Test against Fiji before returning to take the field in the Guinness PRO14 win against Benetton last Sunday.
"I felt good in the win there over the weekend which is great because you need that bit of confidence coming into what’s going to be a testing match against Exeter on Sunday because of the style they like to play and how much they throw the ball around."
Despite the fact that he has played so often the back row still feels he has yet to play his best stuff.
"I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in my game, especially defensively. It’s probably where the biggest margin of growth needs to be," Conan said before elaborating a little but more.
"I think the quicker the game is the harder you have to work to get set earlier to put yourself in a good position in the right areas of the pitch, especially as a back rower. Not just too close to the ruck so the game, defensively, passes you by a little bit. But to get out in the wider channels in the middle of the pitch where you can make impact tackles and make important defensive decisions."
Does the 25-year-old put that down to needing more experience?
"It does come with experience and it comes with getting a few games under your belt. It’s probably something I will look to implement this weekend and hopefully put myself in a good defensive position throughout the game, if I’m chosen to play."
There is no doubt that the clash of the Irish province and the best team in England is the Champions Cup game for the neutral and Conan expects an exciting game at Sandy Park.
"I think it’s going to be pretty free-flowing. Exeter like to throw it around and play an expansive style of rugby, albeit not a team of superstars as some people might say but they’ve got some brilliant talent across the park and they work very well as a unit. That just shows, they had a fantastic win against Bath at the weekend, they put them to the sword pretty convincingly.
"We know it’s going to be probably our biggest challenge in Europe so far this year. It’s probably two different contrasts in style compared to the likes of Montpellier who are just so direct and physical whereas these lads probably have a bit more skill about them and they look to exploit gaps if we give them the opportunity."
While being wary of what the English club might offer in attack, Conan was eager
"Defensively we’re going to have to be so switched on and solid throughout for 80 minutes. Whilst not taking away from our own game, when we do have the ball because, even on the weekend there was lads coming back in and people getting the chance to play for the first time in a while. Vakh [Abdaladze] getting his first cap and James [Lowe] getting his first cap as well. We had a good offensive performance and that’s something we need to build on. That’s the Leinster way and we’ll do that again on Sunday."
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