WHILE A NUMBER of returning internationals will have reported for provincial duty last week nursing bruised confidences, Jack Conan was one of the few players to emerge from the Six Nations with more positives than negatives on his ledger.
The number eight started in the victory over Scotland at Murrayfield in round two and made significant contributions off the bench in his other championship appearances against France and Wales, notably scoring his sixth international try against Les Bleus.
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Conan pictured in UCD this week. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Gaining more minutes at Test level was an opportunity welcomed by Conan and certainly the 26-year-old stood up in the absence of CJ Stander to verify his credentials for the World Cup, but now he is eager to quickly turn the page.
While the cloud of disappointment following Ireland’s Six Nations campaign has lingered and will hang over Joe Schmidt for some time, the players have been able to return to their provinces this week with all of that firmly in the rearview mirror.
Back in Leinster blue, Conan and his team-mates have had little time to dwell on the past as their attention switches instantly to a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against an Ulster side who will arrive in Dublin gunning to cause an upset.
“It’s good to be home and it’s an exciting time for the club,” Conan says, in the all-together more relaxed surroundings of Leinster’s UCD base after spending the last two months in the Carton House bubble.
“On the Six Nations, it was the most amount of minutes I’ve played in a championship which was a real highlight for me but, yeah, it was disappointing as a team, the results and performances.
Conan joins a raft of frontline internationals in returning to Leo Cullen’s selection plans for the first time since rounds five and six of the Champions Cup pool stages back in January, among them Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose, James Ryan, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong.
“Lads have come back in with a huge amount of excitement,” the number eight continues.
“A lot of people were obviously bitterly disappointed with the results over the Six Nations campaign and there were obviously lads who played a hell of a lad more than I did, so especially those lads — your Johnnys, your Tadhgs, your James Ryans — they’re such a pivotal part of the Irish team, those lads are hugely excited to get back in here and get back to winning ways.
“We’ll take the lessons and implement them in here so we’re better for it at Leinster.”
No better occasion than a sold-out Aviva Stadium inter-pro to focus minds again, and Conan’s back row battle with the fit-again Marcell Coetzee and a familiar face in Jordi Murphy will be fascinating on Saturday evening.
Murphy played such an integral role in Leinster’s European success last season before moving north to join Ulster during the summer, and the Ireland international has helped Dan McFarland’s side into a first European knockout game 2014.