The No 8 came in amongst chaos and delivered in Edinburgh
It was the equivalent of the meme dog sitting amongst flames with a mug of joe, except this time it was Andy Farrell thinking to himself ‘this is fine.’
There are occupational hazards and then there was Murrayfield on Sunday. Players were heading off the park at alarming regularity, particularly for Ireland. Garry Ringrose suffered from a sickening head injury, Dan Sheehan also went off with a shoulder problem, Iain Henderson was forced off with a fractured forearm which now requires surgery, and Caelan Doris had to withdraw with a hip complaint.
Sheehan’s replacement Rob Herring then also suffered a shoulder blow which saw Cian Healy, a prop, come on to fill in at hooker with flanker Josh van der Flier forced to throw into the lineout.
Related: 2023 Six Nations Injuries Update
And yet, amongst that madness players stepped up. Van der Flier threw for six successful lineouts out of nine. Healy played his part in winning a scrum penalty at the first time of crunching. Player of the match Mack Hansen made three offloads (joint-top tally of the round), two clean breaks, and put on one assist as well as scoring in the corner when it looked near impossible for him to keep his frame on the field.
And then there was the Jack Conan performance.
In recent weeks there has been a buffet of ‘ah well’, ‘you see’ and ‘the thing is’ about Conan’s place in the starting line-up. He’s not the man leading that back-row from the off because Caelan Doris has been stellar with eight on his back. He bumped Doris round to six against Italy, but that run was only ever going to be temporary. Or so we thought before the Roughhouse on Roseburn.
Into the fray he came, with Irish backs against a wall. And in his time on the park, rugby data analysts at Oval Insights calculate that he made 16 carries (the most of any forward at the weekend, and the second most by any player). He made 55m with ball in hand. He also made three offloads, in line with Hansen. And he beat three defenders. That, and he too scored in the corner, with Duhan van der Merwe bearing down on him.
It was pandemonium on the park, and yet the players coming off the bench for Ireland not only kept their heads, they screwed their team-mates’ back on too.
After the game, Conan told the RTE cameras: “I think it’s a testament to the belief that we, as a squad, have in each other, that the management has in us (to come away with the win).
“We spoke during the week about adversity, about what happened here a few years ago, rocking up a few minutes late, and we said ‘no excuses.’
“Andy spoke during the week about rocking up ten minutes before the game and getting the job done. We could have walked off the bus and played and it wouldn’t have mattered to us.”
There is physical fallout. There always is at the end of a Six Nations. And maybe moments like this can’t tell us too much about the Rugby World Cup to come. But stands like the Jack Conan performance in amongst all this, and with so much quality elsewhere, offers up some good omens.
Whatever you want to say about cohesion, this group has it, even when they are held together by metaphorical gauze.
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