Exactly 24 seconds before he fielded a superb high ball that led to Luke McGrath’s try in Soldier Field, Andrew Conway got a similar attempted catch all wrong.
While most people might not have given it a second thought, that is a perfect example of the smaller detail that Joe Schmidt obsesses over.
Over the last couple of seasons, Conway has put a huge amount of work into his aerial game so he would have backed himself to take that one from McGrath’s accurate box-kick.
As it transpired, however, the Munster flyer got a chance to redeem himself less than half a minute later. This time he made no mistake and Ireland scored because of it, which is one of the reasons why Conway looks like forcing his way in for this Saturday’s clash against Argentina.
“I went after a ball on the weekend and it usually it doesn’t go through my arms, but I went out like that (arms diagonally out movement) and it went straight through, after I won the space and everything,” the versatile back-three player explained.
“I didn’t have my cradle in tight and those are the ones, especially playing international rugby, that you want to be getting. I think it’s one of my points of difference, getting after the ball and getting hard into contest, and winning them back clean. So I want to continue to do that.”
Conway hasn’t always been an aerial threat. In his younger days, he was all about pace and footwork allowing him to do things that others couldn’t but he has had to evolve.
Working with Felix Jones has been a big help as has having Schmidt put such focus on an aspect that is extremely important under the Kiwi.
“I was shocking in the air at the start,” Conway admitted.
“I remember when I started playing for Leinster I would be waiting for Isa (Nacewa). He would know it was coming and he would start moving over from full-back and kind of saying, ‘It’s okay, I’ve got you’.
“That was what made me work harder and harder. I remember even in Leinster doing high-ball stuff after training sessions with Joe.
“Joe is just standing there and you are there waiting under the kick. That’s harder than waiting under a kick in the Aviva or the RDS or wherever it was.
“It just took a lot of work and time and it’s going back again to the consistency of doing it: finding the time and probably a few little drills.
“That’s been something that I’ve worked on the most over the years and it was almost like it didn’t necessarily click one day.
“But slowly but surely you start getting your timing and your cradle right and it all starts coming together. It’s a constant work-on.”
Apart from that one big moment, Conway didn’t really get a chance to showcase his full array of skills in Chicago, but at the same time he didn’t do much wrong either.
Having been robbed of more game-time in Australia after injuring himself scoring a try early on in the second Test, Schmidt is keen to have another look at the 27-year-old this month, including against the Pumas.
“To be able to have big moments, beat a defender and score a try in a big game is a huge thing,” Conway added.
“Probably just as big at this stage as the basics and being consistent at the basics.”
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