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The Exchange is a regular Q&A put together by Jake Feury that features interesting people in the American rugby community. Jake, a recent graduate from Middlebury College, has been involved in rugby for a number of years now. Some of his playing experience includes the Morris Lions (NJ), the GPS Gallopers (Australia), Middlebury College (VT), Trinity College (Dublin), Atlantis, the Northeast Academy and various age-grade All-American trials and tours. 

This edition of The Exchange features Conor Kearns. Conor was born in San Francisco but grew up in Limerick, Ireland. He played school rugby during his days at Glenstal Abbey before attending Trinity College of Dublin. As a senior on the squad for the 2015-2016 season, Kearns led Trinity to one of the best seasons in club history, promoting them into the top domestic competition in all of Ireland. 

Also during his time at Trinity, he played for the Munster age-grade programs, including the Muster U-19s and Munster U-20s. Additionally, he played for the USA U-20 Junior All-Americans in the 2013 Junior World Cup, which was held in France. Moreover, he played for the Collegiate All-Americans in their 2016 tour of Australia. Furthermore, he has seen time playing with Munster’s development team, known as “Munster A”. Currently, he is playing rugby at Oxford University, where he is also pursuing a master’s degree.  

Jake Feury: What was your experience like at the 2013 Junior World Cup with the U-20 All-Americans? 

Conor Kearns: The U-20 tour was an incredibly interesting experience. We experienced a good mix of emotions throughout the trip. I think the nature of age-grade rugby at that level causes some difficulties for many countries. For example, the English side that we played against was filled with players that had already received Premiership caps. This makes it very difficult to compete at that level, especially when you do not have as much time to get to know your teammates. I learned a lot from the experience. We were on the end of some tough fixtures, but you can learn from those. It is really interesting to match up yourself to that level.  

JF: Did you enjoy your experience on tour with the U-23 All-Americans in Australia last summer? 

CK: I think a lot us that were on the U-20 team in 2013 were granted the opportunity to play a decent standard of rugby leading up to the 2016 tour to Australia. Everyone had a bit of time to develop, grow and learn about the game a bit more. We were really competitive in Australia last summer, playing against some really good sides. We came away with a win in our first match. We lost our second match at the last kick of the game. In our final match, against a Queensland NRC team, we lost by three points. I think it is really exciting when you look at the development.  

JF: At your tour in Australia you guys played a match against Brothers, a Queensland based club that has been given the nickname “The Filth” due to their physical and violent style of play. Would you say that their style of play lived up to their nickname? 

CK: I came off the bench in that match. We unfortunately lost the match, but we definitely knew what we were getting into. We watched them play the weekend before because they were playing a final. There was a lot of hype about a few of their different players. They had Taniela Tupou [a.k.a. Tongan Thor] playing for them. He was running through blokes left, right and center. He didn’t actually play against us, but I think a few of his brothers were. They were a really physical side and it was not something that I was particularly used to, growing up in Ireland. I do think a lot of the boys had been used to playing against some big fellas before, though. I think a big positive for American Rugby is that people are not afraid to throw their weight around and get physical. 

JF: At the tail end of your 2015-2016 Trinity season you got some time with Munster A. What was that experience like? 

CK: For the preparation of the Irish U-20 tour to the Junior World Cup they asked Munster A to play against them. I was lucky enough to be involved. I think they must have had a few injuries or something, but they gave me a shot. I was absolutely delighted. It was quite a sensitive time of the year for me, actually. I had my interview for Oxford on the morning after the match. I had to go down to Limerick to play and then come back up to Dublin to do the interview. It was an interesting couple of days, but I really enjoyed it and it was a great match. I had played in Thomond once or twice before as a younger lad, so it was nice to run out again. Some of the players that were on our side were really talented. 

JF: Do you think there is any potential at Munster or professional rugby at-large for you in the future? 

CKI don’t know. I think I have to keep moving with my own life plans. I don’t think I can just keep waiting to see if I can pick up something. That is just my own opinion. I am over in England now doing my master’s. If something comes along I will definitely have to look at it. I think it is really important to have a set plan in place where you do not have to be reliant on trying to pick something up rugby-wise. 

JF: In regards to life plans, what did you study at Trinity? 

CK: At Trinity I studied General Science, with a specialization in immunology. Now I am doing a master’s in pharmacology.  

JF: How long do you plan to be over in Oxford? 

CK: It is a two-year program and now I have one year to go. I am looking forward to another year here. 

JF: How is the rugby treating you over there? 

CK: It is a really interesting rugby experience over here. There are players from all different backgrounds. They are all really intelligent and at the top of their game. 

JF: How does Oxford compare to Trinity? 

CK: Trinity, as you know yourself, can be quite academically challenging. It is comparable in that sense. What I am studying at the moment is a little bit more intense than I am used to, but I don’t think there is any harm in that. Rugby is really interesting though. I was just made the captain for next season. The whole season is centered around the varsity match against Cambridge in December. There is essentially a 12-week season starting in September, where you play 10-11 fixtures in the lead up to the Cambridge match. That match is played in Twickenham. The season then ends and the new season begins in January. It is not something I am used to, but it is a really special experience.  

JF: At Trinity you have played with several different capped USA Eagles, including Tim Maupin, Angus McClellan and Kingsley McGowan. There have also been many Trinity lads, including yourself, who have been involved with age-grade USA teams. What do you think about Trinity’s relationship with the American rugby community? 

CK: Tony Smeeth [Trinity’s Head Coach] has been a great servant to USA Rugby for years. He coached the USA U-19 team and was the attack coach for Mike Tolkin’s team a few years ago. The link between the American rugby community and Trinity is great. We have been a great benefactor of the relationship at Trinity. I think it is brilliant and it mutually benefits both sides.  

JF: What do you do when you are not playing rugby or studying? 

CK: At the moment I am trying to organize everything for Oxford’s season next year. We are putting a fixture list together and trying to organize an American tour. We want to make sure that everything is set for our season ahead of time, this way we will be crisp, sharp and professional during the season. That has been taking up most of my time. Between rugby and studying my plate is pretty full. Other than that, I am a big sports fan. For example, I just finished up watching the Master’s coverage from Augusta, which was incredible.  

JF: What is your favorite movie? 

CK: Cool Runnings. 

JF: Favorite meal? 

CK: I am devastated that they don’t have Chipotle in Ireland.