Conway hails Farrell as Reds star strives to make impression
By DAIRE WALSH
IRELAND wing Andrew Conway expects Andy Farrell to make a smooth transition to the role of Ireland head coach when he takes over from Joe Schmidt after next year’s World Cup in Japan.
Farrell was named as Schmidt’s heir apparent following the New Zealander’s decision to step down in 11 months’ time, and Conway is well aware of what the former rugby league star can bring to the table.
“I’m sure he’s been thinking about that [head coach role] for a while. Joe has put massive onus on the leadership group, and the coaching group that he has around him, to be all on the same page,” said Conway.
“He’ll be driving the defensive side of it and I’m sure he knows an incredible amount about attack, because that’s what he’s trying to marshal on a week-to-week basis.”
Farrell held a four-month advisory role with Munster rugby prior to replacing Les Kiss as Ireland defence coach. It was there that Conway first got a taste of the Wigan man’s methods, and it proved to be an eye-opening experience for the 27-year-old.
“Andy has probably got a specific way for wingers and full-backs that he wants you to work. It is tough to adapt to that. It does take a while and it’s just repetition after repetition. Especially in the back-three, everyone knowing what the other guy is doing. I need to be able to look back and see where the 15 is.
“It’s tough working with Andy because he’s got such standards, but the benefit of it comes out in the defence.
“Obviously keeping New Zealand try-less is pretty special. He’s done that a few times and been involved in huge victories over New Zealand. He’s definitely doing something right.”
While Farrell’s coaching style may be defined as unique, the same could be said of the man who has navigated the Irish team since the autumn of 2013. A haul of three Six Nations titles, including last season’s Grand Slam (not to mention a brace of victories over the All Blacks) speaks volumes for the work Schmidt has done.
Of Conway’s 42 caps for his native Leinster, 38 were earned under the guidance of ex-school teacher Joe Schmidt. The Kiwi has played a huge part in his progression to the international stage.
“Working with Joe, he’s different to any other coach. The level of detail that he goes into, as you guys are well aware from us all saying it, is just second to none. He’s got his own specific style.
“To play under him, you have to realise what that style is. Fit in first is probably the key thing. Fit in to the way the game is played. Fit into what you need to do as a winger, as a full-back.
“It’s being consistent across the board. Once you do that, you can try and stamp your own mark on games. There’s a fine balance, but he’s been incredible. We’ve got him for another 11 months. We’ll enjoy that hopefully while we can.”
Schmidt’s departure from Leinster in the summer of 2013 coincided with Conway’s own move the M7 to arch-rivals Munster. While he enjoyed considerable success in the final weeks of his spell with the Blues – he started the Challenge Cup and PRO12 final triumphs over Stade Francais and Ulster respectively – the Blackrock College alumnus has reaped the benefits from his switch down south.
He picked up his 100th Munster cap in an Aviva Stadium showdown with Leinster on October 6 and has lined out 10 times for Ireland in the same period.
Conway freely admits he didn’t always appreciate all that rugby had to offer him, having initially burst onto the scene as a prodigious teenager.
“I enjoy rugby more and I’ve changed my mindset around how grateful I am to be a rugby player. It maybe happened a bit too quick for me at the start, where I was 18 and I was just out of school, I signed a contract with Leinster. It turns your head a bit and then it didn’t work out. It didn’t keep continuing on the trajectory.
“I think part of it was that I almost didn’t realised the work it took to become an international player. I had to find out the hard way that it doesn’t just happen for you.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t necessarily work hard. I probably just did the minimum. I turned up, I trained hard whenever I was on the pitch. I did my weights sessions, but I didn’t really go after it in all aspects.
“That took a few years to learn and thankfully I learnt the lesson in time to live out the dream of playing for Ireland and hope to continue doing it. Hopefully I’ll just keep continuing to learn, because the game is changing and you need to keep going with that and adapting with that. Hopefully it will keep going.”
Conway was speaking yesterday in Limerick, where he was announced as the new Life Style Sports brand ambassador. After grabbing a hat-trick in Ireland’s facile November Series win against the US Eagles last Saturday, he returns to the Munster fold for tonight’s PRO14 encounter with Edinburgh at Musgrave Park.
He also has a healthy strike rate at provincial level this term – three tries in six appearances – but Conway is hoping his all-round game can prosper during a busy window for Johann van Graan’s side.
“I’m playing alright, but I want to get involved in the team’s carries and setting lads up,’ he added.
“Not just getting out there, getting the ball when it comes to my wing and chasing a high ball when it’s a box kick on my side.
“I want to go out and put my stamp on games. If I can continue to do that, then I think I’ll be playing the best rugby of my career,” he said.