The Murray factor
NOVEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Star flyhalf Jonathan Sexton lining up without scrumhalf Conor Murray alongside him in a green shirt is almost a collector’s item.
Murray, though, has not been risked as he is yet to play this season due to a neck injury. Kieran Marmion fills the huge gap — only his sixth start in his 23rd Test.
Head coach Joe Schmidt has no concerns about the ‘pocket rocket’, as he describes the 26-year-old Connacht scrumhalf.
“He is the guy who, when we lost Conor on the Thursday before playing England a couple of years ago, stepped straight in and did a great job,” said Schmidt, referring to when the Irish beat England in 2017 denying them a successive Grand Slam.
“So he’s had the most experience [of the three options to start at scrumhalf], and he’s a great little player for us.”
Despite his confidence, the Pumas will be heartened by the absence of Murray and be looking at Marmion as a potential weak link, although, he too will be seeking to dash those hopes and make him the undisputed number two to Murray and also a certain starter for the All Blacks match.
Meanwhile, Sean O’Brien is a world-class flank as two British and Irish Lions tours attest but injury has been an unwelcome bedfellow down the years and once again he faces question marks over whether he can come back at this level.
However, the player nicknamed ‘The Tullow Tank’ because of his rampaging runs, says there is no question of allowing himself to get down about the great moments he has missed but to play well and retain his place so that he too can enjoy the potential high points to come.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 8, 2018
“Every chance you get to pull on the green jersey is a special one. I’ve an opportunity to wear it this week and I have to do a good job of it,” said the 31-year-old who missed out on the Grand Slam campaign because of injury.
Schmidt has hailed O’Brien.
“He has a contagious confidence. He’s robust, he’s experienced and people see him doing things on the pitch and they go, ‘yeah, I can get into this game on the back of that’,” said Schmidt.
O’Brien, though, is well aware that the back row is one where the Irish are blessed with talent and there will be no room for sentiment should he fail to sparkle on Saturday.
I am delighted to have signed on with the IRFU until at least 2022. Over the past few seasons I’ve enjoyed great days in the green of Ireland and the red of my home province Munster. I love playing here and look forward to making more life long memories in the next few years.Tnks pic.twitter.com/EWflKRQcHh
— Conor Murray (@ConorMurray_9) October 10, 2018