While the majority of Ireland’s players came back from New Zealand rebounding, Jack Konan had mixed feelings.
The 30-year-old has played his part in a historic run, making four of the five matches including the three Tests against the All Blacks.
However, Conan found himself on every occasion playing the role of replacing influence.
Five of the eight Ireland internationals who led for the Tour of New Zealand, as well as all three British and Irish Lions Test last summer, have started but a bout of Covid over Christmas contributed to his slump during the Six Nations and left behind Munster. Peter O’Mahony in the back row mortise order.
He grew off the bench in the final quarter of the three Tests against New Zealand, but his 52-minute total playing time felt unsatisfactory.
“First of all, I was happy to be involved and to be there and to be part of such a great team and to make something of history,” Konan said.
“Obviously I would have loved to have been involved a little more than I did but that’s what happens. I may not have done myself enough in the months prior to that for a few different reasons.
“At the end of the day, I was just happy to be there and just happy to be involved. It’s been a great few weeks with a good group of players.
“It’s something that even when you retire, you’ll look back to say you were part of the first ever Irish team to go down there and win a Test and then a series. It was something really special.
“[I’m] Grateful but I think I left a bit there too, which is a bit disappointing on a personal note.”
This disappointment gave Conan extra motivation heading into a big 12 months for Irish rugby. A few tweaks during pre-season put him in a better place as the countdown to next year’s Rugby World Cup begins.
Asked if this was his biggest season since turning professional, Konan replied: “Maybe in some ways it is after the disappointment three years ago at the last World Cup where I had to go home early due to injury. [broken foot] And I felt like I never got my shot on the bigger stage.
“I played against Scotland in that first game but I didn’t run and I think when you hang up your boots and look back you want to say you gave your best on the bigger stage and that’s definitely what I want to do until next year.
“I know it’s 12 months away but for me mentally and physically it starts now.”
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Darren said how Leinster were a bit nervous in their inaugural BKT United Rugby League win over Zepre, but it looked like a pre-season friendly.
Conan has a point to prove, and so does Leinster after a prizeless campaign. The last time they finished the season empty-handed was in 2017, and they responded by winning the League and European titles.
“Winning makes you a little weak and now that we went last season without a win for the first time since 2017, that amount of desperation drives the desire in a big way,” Konan said.
“In 2017, when we came back after that season, we talked about it as almost the year. We almost got to the European final and the League final, so that definitely makes the players hungrier and the coaches – you can’t ever question people here resting On their laurels because we won in the past.
“There is a constant desire to grow as a unit, but we are definitely hungrier than we have been for a long time having had a season without any titles, and being so close.
“In front of La Rochelle, we were 60 seconds away from winning this final. It makes it more painful. It stings. It’s a feeling we never want again and it motivates everyone in this building.”
take They opened the season of the BKT United Rugby Championship unconvincingly against Zebrewhere some defensive lapses have proved almost costly, Leinster face more Italian opposition at the RDS on Friday when Benetton travels to Dublin buoyed by Glasgow’s 22-point first-round defeat.
“They went from being underdog years ago and they’re just growing up as a club,” he said. “They have already arrived and they have some great talent, especially in the back row, just speaking from my own corner of the world.
“They are not underdogs anymore. They are well trained, incredibly physical, they have a huge range and therefore the ability to take advantage of wide spaces and also with the likes of Renault Smith and players of his caliber.
“They are definitely a team that has gained a lot of experience and become really good in the last 12 months.”
Follow the BKT United Rugby Championship 2022/23 via RTÉ Radio, Television, RTÉ.ie/Sports and the RTÉ News app.
Watch live coverage of Stormers v Connacht (September 24) and Dragons v Munster (September 25) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.