No 8 Jack Conan, who was a surprise inclusion in the British & Irish Lions lineup for the first Test, says it was “surreal” hearing his name called out as a starter against world champion Springboks on Saturday.
The 28-year-old Ireland loose forward fills a place in the team for the first Test in Cape Town that most pundits expected would be taken by Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau.
Sam Simmonds from England was another contender and he and Faletau were among the first to congratulate Conan for getting the nod from coach Warren Gatland.
“It was fantastic to hear my name being called out as a starter. I think it is natural to doubt yourself, so it was an anxious time when Warren was announcing the team,” Conan told an online news conference.
“Hearing my name called out was surreal. I do not think it gets any bigger than this,” said a forward whose career has been hampered by injuries.
“I have been pretty consistent in the last few warm-up matches. I have tried to show what I am capable of every time I was given a chance.
“I am not looking past this weekend, I am delighted to get the nod for the first Test, but I am not looking any further forward than that.”
Conan has not only impressed Gatland and the assistant coaches with his forward play, but also scored two tries on tour, one of them in a 46-point rout of the Stormers franchise in Cape Town last weekend.
Conan is unconcerned about never having played in a combination with England flankers Tom Curry and Courtney Lawes.
“We have bonded well as a back row, not just myself and the two lads, but everyone. We are there helping each other every day to get better.”
A neck injury was the latest setback for Conan, limiting his appearances for Ireland to 20 in six years, and facing the Springboks was a distant dream when this year dawned.
“At the start of the year it was just about getting fit again and not having these constant setbacks. Touring with the Lions was not at the top of my list.
“But I have been taking it game by game and enjoying my rugby more. It shows in my performances that I am playing better now than ever before.
©️ Agence France-Presse