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Rugby

01st Feb 2024

“I dream of standing there again, singing the anthems, looking up into the crowd and seeing my parents”

Patrick McCarry

Will Connors

“It’s kind of a drive to get back out there again.”

Ahead of an Andy Farrell squad announcement when his only big dice rolls were to include three, young ‘training panellists’, Will Connors was pleased to find himself back in the conversation. He did not make the final selection, but getting close was a sure sign he is back on the right track.

Farrell ultimately went with the back rows he has worked closely with over the past two years, while Connors was dealing with injury set-backs. Nick Timoney got that final slot, with some Ulster decent run-outs at No.8 being the difference maker.

Connors has nine Ireland caps to his name, but played only two games in 2021/22 after breaking his leg in March 2021, at the tail-end of a Six Nations campaign that had propelled him into Lions picture. He managed 11 Leinster games [four starts] last season but there were a couple of injury set-backs. This season has seen Connors return close to his 2019-21 vintage, and allowed him to dream again.

“I’ll keep tipping away and will hopefully get back in the jersey, one day. All I can work on is that day-to-day of showing up at Leinster and trying to represent myself as best I can, with every opportunity I get. Hopefully through that consistency, it opens up the opportunity again. My parents never got to go to any of those games, during Covid.

“It was empty stadiums, at Stade de France and in Rome and Cardiff, and me looking around to absolutely nothing. I dream of standing there, singing the anthems, again and looking up into the crowd and seeing my parents. It’s kind of a drive to get back out there again and pick up where I left off.”

Connors, on the latest House of Rugby, also spoke of young outhalf talent Sam Prendergast and his chop-tackle technique that hobbled European champs, La Rochelle, in this season’s Champions Cup.

WILL CONNORS & LINDSAY PEAT ON HOUSE OF RUGBY

Will Connors has nine Test caps for Ireland. (Credit: Ian Boyle, JOE)

Will Connors on Sam Prendergast

Going into the Champions Cup clash against La Rochelle, at Stade Marcel Deflandre, Will Connors had only started one game (against Dragons) for Leinster, this season. For the game – as Leinster tried to snap a three-game losing run against Ronan O’Gara’s men – Connors got the No.7 jersey.

In terms of pressure, it was the biggest game of Connors’ career in two and a half years, and he was starting in place of 2022 World Rugby Player of the Year, Josh van der Flier. In his 48 all-action, chop-tackling minutes on the pitch, Connors gave European rugby a reminder of his abilities.

“Even during the injuries, at times, you sometimes doubt yourself. You definitely miss the big stage. I was nervous, coming into it. My parents were off in Lanzarote – off sunning themselves – so they had to make some quick plans to get over to rainy La Rochelle. For me, being out there on the big stage with the lads, again, was huge. Especially going up against big players like Will Skelton and Uini Atonio.

“It’s something you miss. Through the darker days, that’s the stuff you look at and miss. It drives you. So to get out there again was huge, and I really enjoyed it.”

On the chop-tackle technique he was perfected, the Kildare native explained that Noel McNamara, his coach at Clongowes Wood College (now with Bordeaux) was the driving force. “Our team wasn’t the biggest or the most physical, but he drilled into us this low chop. My other mates from school were all the same and would wonder why other players didn’t do it. There is method to the madness. As crazy as it may seem like I’m flying into knees, it has been years of trying to drill the techniques of footwork and getting you head into the right position.”

Sam Prendergast of Leinster. (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile)

While Will Connors just missed out on that Ireland squad, Leinster teammate Sam Prendergast was included as a training panellist. Connors sees a heap of potential in another player of good Kildare stock.

“He just has this confidence, and an aura around him. I played in his first Leinster game, against Lions in South Africa. For such a young lad, he just carried that game with him. He had leadership, he dictated what we were doing. He just had that bit about him.

“And even in training, he’s pulling off these little, flashy moves and he just has that X-factor to him that you can’t teach.”

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