‘Natural successor,’ a World Cup bolter? A quick guide to Ireland new boys Conan and White
‘Natural successor,’ a World Cup bolter? A quick guide to Ireland new boys Conan and White

‘Natural successor,’ a World Cup bolter? A quick guide to Ireland new boys Conan and White

THE MOST REMARKABLE thing about Joe Schmidt’s extended squad for the Six Nations is not the number of men he has called up.

It’s that, even with all the extensive injury concerns, there are still just two players bearing an asterisk instead of an international cap beside their name. In a World Cup year, having so many players who have already earned some international experience has to carry some sort of importance.

Jack Conan is the only member of the 46-man gathering without any previous involvement in an international squad. His fellow Test virgin Nathan White was forced out of the November internationals after rupturing a tendon in his arm during training at Carton House last year.

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

To the unfamiliar, Conan is a back row of immense promise (and no shortage of proportion). Standing 6′ 4″ and listed at over 110 kilos, he should be expected get over the gainline and he shows good agility to get his body low and deliver on that expectation time after time.

The 22-year-old has amassed 15 appearances since scoring on his Leinster debut 11 months ago. The remaining 14 games have come this season, and his powerful carrying ability brought two more tries – the most recent of which came within a minute of him being awarded the man-of-the-match award against Ulster.

“I had a chat with him,” forwards coach Leo Cullen said of Conan after that match, “it was just about him imposing himself now.

Conan’s physical attributes naturally mark him out as a number eight and a line-out option, but with the minutes under his belt mounting the former St Gerard’s kid has also shown a hunger for the slightly less glamourous elements in the game with accurate clear-outs and powerful tackles.

“He could be a natural successor to Jamie,” was the impressed assessment of his team-mate Kevin McLaughlin. And when you hear Conan speak for himself, his confident demeanour suggests he won’t be content just to pick up a tracksuit in Carton House and let the big boys get back to work.

“I don’t want to just fill in when they’re gone,” he told The42.ie during the November internationals.

“I want to be a constant player [for Leinster] throughout the season. I want to always be there or thereabouts when the squad’s being picked. I’m not just going to hand over the jersey easily.”

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

At the other end of the uncapped age spectrum, White is a tighthead representing all those who might have thought their chance at international was passed.

The naturalised New Zealander is well versed in Joe Schmidt’s methods having played under him at Leinster before heading west. His selection in November came with a big injury question mark over Ross. Now though, the 33-year-old is back on the list with a new two-year contract ahead of him in Connacht. And it would seem that the head coach likes the idea of a teak-tough veteran to back up and compete with Ross and Marty Moore.

As the only two players without a cap, White and Conan start at a disadvantage to most players with the clock ticking down to the Six Nations.

However, outside bets can romp home too. Now Conan and White are in the mix, and so performances over the next eight months could well earn them a spot in the much more compact World Cup squad.

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