Champions Cup joy for Conan and Cullen
Cullen becomes first man to play for and coach a winning side
JACK CONAN will go head-tohead with some of rugby’s biggest and toughest men without flinching but getting on the wrong side of his mum terrifies him.
Some of Ireland’s Six Nations medals famously went missing in the aftermath of their Grand Slam victory over England so Conan kept a close eye on his gold in Bilbao to avoid the wrath of his mum, Ann, who was watching from the stands.
Conan replaced Jordi Murphy in the 61st minute but would have a crucial involvement as he ploughed Teddy Thomas into touch and Racing 92 would subsequently be caught offside - paving the way for Isa Nacewa’s winning penalty.
The Bray man was also closest to Remi Tales as his last-gasp drop goal attempt failed to hit the target. The 25-year-old failed to make the block but it mattered little.
“I was beside the ruck and the nine passed it back to the 10 and I sprinted for my life and I was nowhere near it but I got up off the ground and I looked back and I knew it had gone wide. It was an unbelievable moment.
“It took me a second to find the ball and then I saw that Rob (Kearney) was chasing after it and it had gone dead and I knew 80 minutes was up at that stage so that was us. Incredible moment - incredible feeling.”
Conan was speaking to Off The Ball after the match and was struggling to articulate the phenomenal feeling of being a champion of Europe but he doesn’t want this to be the last success of his season.
“It’s surreal at this stage, I don’t think it’s really sunk in. What a day - May 12th, 2018. It’s something I’ll never forgot. To come on and play my part and help out the lads and get the win was just a dream. I don’t really have any words about it at the moment - it’s just bucket-list stuff.
“It’s only the beginning as well for Leinster rugby and I’m excited to go on, we’ve a massive two weeks with the semi-final next week and that’s what we’ll be focusing on. There’ll be no sitting around and celebrating this - we’ll enjoy tonight but come Monday we’ll flick the switch and (the focus will be) Munster in the RDS.
“It’s Championship rugby and it’s all about those tiny, tiny margins. There was one penalty in it. Even though we didn’t go out and play the way we originally planned to play - we didn’t play the Leinster rugby way - it’s a testament to the squad that we were able to dig in and play any style of rugby to get the win. It was an extremely tough challenge against a formidable side that had unbelievable ball-carriers and strength up front.”
Much to Ann’s delight, Conan now has a Six Nations and Champions Cup medal to polish but Saturday’s achievement meant more as he did more to earn in than the Grand Slam.
“Paddy’s Day was an incredible experience but I didn’t get to tog out that day and I didn’t get to contribute on the day so this to me is just that bit more special because I had an impact in it. Obviously it was unbelievable to be with the lads on Paddy’s Day and win a grand slam but to be here and actually get on the pitch and contribute was just something extra special.”
Conan’s Head Coach, Ashford’s Leo Cullen has now won the European crown as a player and a coach.
“It was tough to watch that last 20 minutes. Torturous in many ways.
“It was an incredible feeling in the end, perhaps made more special by the pain we had to go through watching that.”
Cullen added, “I think obsessed is probably the word I’d use about this tournament. I am very lucky. The club is very supportive of me.”
“We have a love affair with this tournament.”
“A lot of work goes into, for the most part, producing homegrown players, and you can see the young guys there who did so well for us today.
“We have clubs and schools we rely heavily on to produce players and then we recruit a couple of guys to add to it all from the outside.
“We’re just pleased to see that
the work goes on. We have a love affair with this tournament.
“But it’s mainly about credit to the players because they are the ones who put out the brave deeds on the day.
“And especially guys like Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton - their influence on the team is so crucial. They are two very dedicated leaders so I’m very pleased for them.”
Bray’s Jack Conan celebrates after the European Rugby Champions Cup final between Leinster and Racing 92.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen and captain Isa Nacewa, right, during their home
Dan Leavy, left, Jack McGrath, centre, and Jack Conan of Leinster celebrate at the final whistle.
ecoming at Energia Park in Dublin.