Calm Conor Murray still gets Brian O'Driscoll's backing

Andy Farrell can choose between Murray, a newly-Irish-qualified Leinster nine in Jamison Gibson-Park and Connacht’s Kieran Marmion
Calm Conor Murray still gets Brian O'Driscoll's backing

Brian O'Driscoll. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Competition among Irish scrum-halves is mounting on a number of fronts for Conor Murray but Brian O’Driscoll believes the assurance the Munster number nine brings to his Ireland team-mates should see him remain Andy Farrell’s first-choice this autumn.

Farrell is today set to name his team to face Italy this Saturday as the 2020 Guinness Six Nations resumes after an eight-month hiatus with a round-four clash behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland can still win the championship with bonus-point victories in both their remaining games with a trip to Paris their final fixture against France on October 31. The Ireland coach can choose between Murray, a newly-Irish-qualified Leinster nine in Jamison Gibson-Park and Connacht’s Kieran Marmion, back in favour after missing the World Cup while another Leinster man, Luke McGrath has been omitted from the squad. 

The head coach also invited rising Munster and U20 Grand Slam-winning hero Craig Casey into the Ireland camp last week to train but Irish and Lions legend O’Driscoll believes that despite him not being at the peak of his powers since a neck injury in the summer of 2018, Murray is the right man to steer his side towards silverware.

“I’m interested to see what happens at scrum-half,” O’Driscoll said while speaking as Guinness launched a partnership with Canterbury, Intersport Elverys and the IRFU to promote the newly released Irish Women’s Rugby team jersey.

“I think Conor will start but who’s going to be on the bench? Are we going to someone new in Jamison Gibson-Park or are we going to see the elevation of Craig Casey? Or the re-emergence of Marmion? Who knows?

“There’s more pressure on Conor at the moment, even though he’s still the number one for me. So many people are, ‘oh, Conor Murray hasn’t performed for years’, you have to understand the calmness he brings to players around him and a guy that’s been there and done it, even though he’s not at the top of his game at the moment, there’s a huge comfort in what he delivers. There’s no panic ever. Have you ever seen Conor Murray overreacting to a situation? No.

“The guys that have been there for a long time with him, and soldiered with him, realise what he brings and I think … it’s an intangible that adds a huge amount to his selection.”

O’Driscoll suspects there will be little change in personnel from Ireland’s first three games under Farrell, pre-lockdown. That also means another Test window without the talents of Simon Zebo on show under the unwritten IRFU policy of non-selection of overseas-based players. The former Munster star reminded Irish supporters of his quality with two tries for Racing 92 in their epic European final with Exeter Chiefs last Saturday but O’Driscoll believes there will be no exceptions made until other players decide to leave Irish shores and force the IRFU’s hand.

“It’s an unwritten rule, isn’t it? Technically I don’t know what the agreement between the national coach and the union is as to whether they can select or not select. Obviously in Joe Schmidt’s tenure he chose not to do it; Johnny Sexton breaking it on the technicality that he was gone before Joe Schmidt came in as head coach.

“Will it take one of the big players, someone you cannot leave out of the international set-up? Someone even more vital than a Simon Zebo to go away for that rule to be broken?

“What I’m interested to see is, you’d have to anticipate that some of the contracts, we’re looking down the lines of reductions on the basis of what’s happening in the world and the circumstances that the union find themselves in going forward. So will there be bigger money offers in France and in England? Probably. Will there be more temptation as a result? Probably. And will the knock-on effect mean that the status quo will change with regard to having to select players working overseas?

“We’ll have to wait and see over the course of the next while but while it’s only really Simon Zebo in that situation right now, I think they probably don’t want to be seeing changing the rule for one individual. I think it will have to only change when there’s a multiple of players travelling overseas.”

- Guinness have announced a partnership with Canterbury, Intersport Elverys, and the IRFU in support of the sale of the newly released Irish Women’s Rugby team jerseys across its retail sites; the Guinness Webstore and Guinness Open Gate Brewery.

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