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22nd Jun 2018

Ireland’s reliance on Conor Murray sparks lively debate

Patrick McCarry

Murray, Murray, Murray, Reddan, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Marmion, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Marmion, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray, Murray.

For the last 34 Test matches that he has been available for selection, Joe Schmidt has started Conor Murray 31 times.

Last summer saw the likes of Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath try out the No.9 jersey when Murray was off with the British & Irish Lions as starting scrum-half. The Munster man returned and took it back for nine of the next 10 Tests.

In just under three years, here are the games, when available, that Murray has not started when available for Ireland:

  • Romania, World Cup, September 2015 (came on as sub)
  • Canada, November 2016 (rested)
  • Fiji, November 2017 (rested)

Murray also missed the final game of the 2017 Six Nations, against England, as he recovered from a shoulder injury that, at his lowest moments of 10 frustrating weeks out, had the Limerick native worried for his career.

To give a bit of context to the 28-year-old’s dominance at scrum-half, double-winning Leinster No.9 Luke McGrath has never started a Test while Murray has been around. Neither has John Cooney despite being named Connacht and Ulster’s player of the year in successive seasons. Cooney got six minutes on Ireland’s tour of Australia; that’s his lot.

Ireland’s reliance, or over-reliance, on Murray sparked a lively debate between James Downey and Kevin McLaughlin on The Hard Yards [from 32:00].

“We don’t have to look at other scrum-halves but I would have liked to have seen it, just in case,” Downey began.

“I just think we play Conor too much. We play him like a Tadhg Furlong, and when you are putting a scrum-half out there [to start] as much as a prop, it is quite ridiculous. And they are playing him for 75 minutes before we take him off. Same with Munster, he often plays the full 80 minutes.

“Normally, your 9s come off with 25 or 30 minutes to go and the new guy adds some pace to it. It’s just like to see someone else. Whether that is Marmion, Cooney or McGrath, it doesn’t matter. We just know that they can come in and seamlessly produce what they need to produce.”

Asked by host Andy McGeady if he would prefer to see Cooney or Marmion get the next start, McLaughlin said “neither”. Joe Schmidt selected Murray to start the Third Test against Australia – the series decider – and McLaughlin is perfectly happy with that.

“Start Murray. 80 minutes or whatever is required to win the Test Series.

“This is not a time to be testing lads out… this is a proof-point for this Irish team – Can they go to a southern hemisphere country and win a Test Series? Three Tests. Three Saturdays in a row. This will be the hardest battle and an Irish team have not won down there for a long, long time.”

The deciding vote came to former Munster back Paul Warwick, who backed McLaughlin and said the November internationals may be the opportunity for a couple of scrum-halves to get runs out.

Murray, if fit, will most likely get starts against Argentina and New Zealand so that leaves Italy (in Chicago) and the USA for the likes of Cooney, McGrath and Marmion.