Wick­low duo look for­ward to big sea­son

Ex­cit­ing times for Cullen and Co­nan

Bray People - - SPORT -

ARK­LOW RFC hosted the Le­in­ster Se­nior Rugby squad on Tues­day morn­ing and af­ter­noon as the boys in blue took their pre-sea­son train­ing onto the firsts pitch on a glo­ri­ously sunny morn­ing in Ark­low.

A huge crowd turned up to watch the ses­sion, par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple, and af­ter the ses­sion was fin­ished the play­ers spent time go­ing around to get in as many self­ies and sign as many au­to­graphs as they could.

Although Le­in­ster’s five Li­ons stars have not yet re­turned to train­ing them­selves the Tul­low Tank Seán O’Brien was there meet­ing and greet­ing as many of the sup­port­ers as he could.

Also in at­ten­dance but not tak­ing part in train­ing due to a mi­nor groin strain was Le­in­ster’s Wick­low star Jack Co­nan and the Wick­low Peo­ple caught up with him as well as his head coach and fel­low Wick­low man Leo Cullen to talk all things Le­in­ster.

Co­nan was capped three times for Ire­land dur­ing June’s tour of USA and Ja­pan and the Bray man says it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence which he savoured.

“It was great to get capped again and then to go out there and play so well and get three big wins was bril­liant for the team. It had been two years since I was capped pre­vi­ously so to pull back on the green jersey again was amaz­ing.

“It was a rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced team for the three tests so it was a good chance for guys to put their hand up and im­press Joe and I think a lot of lads did that.”

Co­nan is cur­rently side­lined with a mi­nor groin strain so had to sit out the ses­sion in Ark­low but says he is ex­cited for the sea­son ahead.

“For me per­son­ally I want to carry the form I had last year and through the sum­mer tests into this sea­son and im­prove on it again. The back row is very com­pet­i­tive which is great be­cause you’re never rest­ing on your lau­rels and have to play well con­sis­tently to keep your spot.

“Ob­vi­ously I want to play in as many big games as pos­si­ble and earn my­self an­other chance to pull on the Irish jersey but it’s all down to how I per­form.

“As a team we were ob­vi­ously mas­sively dis­ap­pointed to lose the two semi-fi­nals last year. On the flip side of that though I think the gen­eral feel­ing is also that, de­spite how it ended, we im­proved mas­sively from the sea­son be­fore and there is a num­ber of younger guys com­ing through and es­tab­lish­ing them­selves or fight­ing for places. Com­pe­ti­tion across the board is fierce and I think we played an ex­cit­ing brand of rugby so it’s all about tak­ing that up an­other notch and hope­fully win­ning tro­phies next sea­son which is the aim.”

Coach Cullen shared the opin- ion of his back rower and feels that if Le­in­ster can pull things to­gether a great sea­son is very pos­si­ble. All eyes cur­rently though are on pre-sea­son and get­ting the play­ers primed for the sea­son ahead.

“Ab­so­lutely I think we have a team ca­pa­ble of win­ning tro­phies and that will be the aim.

“It all starts on days like this and cur­rently there is a lot of play­ers at dif­fer­ent stages of their pre-sea­son which makes it a lit­tle dis­jointed but is some­thing we just have to man­age.

“Ev­ery­one gets 4 to 5 weeks off but ob­vi­ously the 5 guys who went with the Li­ons were fin­ished up at a dif­fer­ent time so they’re cur­rently off at the mo­ment while the lads in­volved on the Irish tour have only started back re­cently. When it all comes to­gether we feel we have a very good squad ca­pa­ble of im­prov­ing on last sea­son but we’ll have to do our talk­ing on the pitch.”

The squad for next sea­son will also have two over­seas ad­di­tions as Aus­tralian in­ter­na­tional Scott Fardy and New Zealan­der James Lowe signed for Le­in­ster over the sum­mer. Cullen is ex­cited about the new ar­rivals and hope’s they will add to the team.

“Scott’s just moved over and is cur­rently set­tling in while James won’t be avail­able un­til Oc­to­ber due to com­mit­ments with Tas­man in the ITM Cup. They are two play­ers we feel can add a lot. Scott is a tough, no non­sense player and has been capped al­most forty times for Aus­tralia and played in the World Cup Fi­nal. His ex­pe­ri­ence as well as his play­ing abil­ity could be in­valu­able while James is a re­ally ex­cit­ing prospect and has been an elec­tri­fy­ing winger for the Chiefs over the last cou­ple of years.”

Fi­nally it was an­nounced on Tues­day morn­ing that the cur­rent Pro 12 com­pe­ti­tion will be ex­panded to a 14 team tour­na­ment with the ad­di­tion of 2 South African teams; the Chee­tahs and the South­ern Kings.

The for­mat of the league will also change with teams be­ing split into 2 seven team groups, although every team in the league will play each other at least once. Cullen feels that over­all it is an ex­cit­ing change and one he is look­ing for­ward to.

“Yeah I think the pos­i­tives out­weigh the neg­a­tives. Of­ten new for­mats like this are met with ini­tial scep­ti­cism and un­cer­tainty but I think it will be a great chance for our play­ers and coaches to test them­selves against qual­ity op­po­si­tion with dif­fer­ent play­ing styles and in a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment.

“It’s also a new mar­ket and a chance to grow rev­enue and grow the game so I think over­all it’s def­i­nitely a pos­i­tive ven­ture. Re­gard­less of the com­pe­ti­tion for­mat I was bit­terly dis­ap­pointed how the sea­son ended last year so we can’t wait to get back play­ing and hope­fully have a suc­cess­ful year ahead.”

Le­in­ster head coach Leo Cullen.

Jack Co­nan at the Le­in­ster rugby train­ing and meet and greet in Ark­low Rugby Club.

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