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Conan: Hard-Fought Win Will Serve Us Well Down The Line

Conan: Hard-Fought Win Will Serve Us Well Down The Line

Jack Conan admitted there was a sense of relief among the Ireland squad after they held off a strong challenge from Fiji to secure a 23-20 GUINNESS Series victory at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Jack Conan was one of 13 changes to the Ireland team from their impressive win over South Africa the previous Saturday, and the Leinster number 8 added to his growing reputation with an excellent breakaway try in the opening half against Fiji.

However, despite taking a number of positives from the hard-fought success, the Wicklow man acknowledged that the powerful South Sea Islanders were allowed easy access into the game on too many occasions.

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“A bit relieved, to be honest. A tough 80 minutes, obviously a very, very small margin. I think we were delighted to get the win, because to be fair to Fiji, they threw it around and they played some great rugby. They’re very opportunistic and made the most of a few mistakes that we gave them,” said Conan, giving his reaction afterwards.

“We gave them far too much easy access into the game. 11 turnovers in the first half alone, which isn’t good enough by our standards at all. To come out the other side of it with the win, I think the boys are delighted. To give the lads like Chris Farrell a win on his first cap is obviously fantastic.”

With the match in the melting pot for long spells of the second half, Ireland needed a 72nd minute penalty from replacement Ian Keatley to finally get over the line. However, with 13 players in the match day squad having 10 caps or fewer to their name, Conan believes the way they dug deep to secure the win will help the squad to grow in the weeks and months to come.

“I think it’s one of those memories, and something we’ll share going down the line as a team. Obviously last weekend, we had over 600 caps playing against South Africa, whereas today we only had about 200.

“For such a young squad, and a young 23, to dig deep, I think it will just build the team even more down the line. It was fantastic to be part of that. Obviously not a vintage performance on our behalf, but any time you go out and get the win is obviously great.”

The past 12 months have seen Conan establishing himself as a key figure for Leinster at provincial level where his nine tries in 20 appearances helped them to reach the semi-finals of both of the GUINNESS PRO12 and Champions Cup last season.

While both competitions can offer players a sense of what is to be expected at international level, Conan stressed that Saturday’s clash with ninth-ranked Fiji was a step up from what he experiences with Leinster.

“It’s another step up. Physicality wise, pace wise. The error for margins is smaller. The window for timing is so much smaller again, so you have to be on it. You have to be so sharp every single time. It’s definitely a step up.

“I haven’t played in a few weeks since that Ulster game, so I was definitely blowing a bit out there in that first half, but I got my second wind, and I was okay by the end of it.”

The 25-year-old back rower was picking up just his fifth international cap on Saturday, but with four tries already in his Ireland career, he is eager for more opportunities to impress. The Bray native is determined to make the Irish number 8 shirt his own.

“When Joe (Schmidt) tells you on the Monday or the Tuesday that you’re going to be involved at the weekend, you’re not thinking, ‘look, I’m borrowing this jersey from someone else for 80 minutes’. You’ve got to think, ‘this is my jersey now, I’m going to put up my hand, do my absolute best’.

“As it was today, we weren’t at our best, but that’s rugby, and you have to take the punches. It will be looked back on as something to improve on and get better,” he added.