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Highlights on Off The Ball

Will Connors hasn't been in the Irish rugby squad very long, but the Leinster backrow is more than familiar with the training base at Carton House.

Having grown up just minutes from the Irish base he'd often be up for a sneak peak at training, or to get a signature on his boots, possibly even from his current teammates, although he's reluctant to name any names...

The flanker is in the unusual position of being locked inside the Irish bubble, despite the family home being not far off walking distance away.

However, he says it's a privileged position, and one he wasn't sure he'd ever be in.

"It's a weird one, you know? A few years ago when I was only a young lad coming up here watching the lads train. It was definitely a cool experience, and I didn't think I'd be here myself.

"It is really a good group. There's a lot of lads that I've got on well with, and lads I've got on well with in Leinster. You look at the likes of Caelan (Doris), that lad's going around putting fivers on Rock-Paper-Scissors! He keeps you busy, keeps you on your toes, there's a good group of lads here so we're enjoying ourselves," he says.

The 'Chop-Shop'

The addition of Connors and Doris to an already deep competitive backrow queue has only heightened the competition in the 6,7 and 8 jerseys.

But Connors does have his niche, with his "chop-tackle" abilities offering something different in particular games.

Despite the levels of competition between the back-row players, Connors says he's been happy to share his expertise. One of those who has been tapping him for his secret recipe is CJ Stander, whom he says has been an "incredible teacher".

"Obviously he's an incredible poacher, and I kind of pride myself on the chop tackle, so the both of us are working together to learn off each other. We're calling it a bit of a "Chop Shop". He's teaching me how to get in onto the ball quick , while I'm trying to teach him, I suppose to chop tackle.

"He's one of the best poachers in the game, so to be able to learn skills off him like that is priceless," he says.

"At the end of the day that's just part of my game. I know it's something that's definitely got me to this point, but I work a lot on the ball. All the way up through rugby I've always been a ball carrier, that's what I pride myself off. Defensively I've been happy with how things have been going. Definitely, ball in play and ball in my hands, I'm confident. I like to play, I want to get involved as much as I can."

Tight Margins

A quirk of the pandemic meant that Connors had to wait until September's Heineken Champions Cup quarter final defeat to Saracens until he could make his European debut for Leinster, before he was thrust into the test arena for the final Six Nations games less than a month later.

Andy Farrell is clearly a fan, with Connors either starting or appearing off the bench in every game so far.

However, he says he's becoming aware just how small the margins for error are in test rugby.

"The biggest thing was that at that top level mistakes are punished. You can't lose the moment. You can't really zone out of the game for a second because that's what top teams are trying to expose.

"That's kind of in the mental side of the game as well as being able to push myself physically to go for 80 minutes. Then as well, you can't just be a one-trick-pony, you need to be adaptable, and be able to play both sides of the ball. I've been pushing myself skill-set wise and trying to get on the ball a lot more."

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