Eoin Reddan could be in line for a recall to the Ireland team to face Australia with head coach Joe Schmidt weighing up whether to relegate Lions scrum-half Conor Murray to the bench for Saturday’s Aviva Stadium Test.
Reddan could be reunited with former Leinster team-mate Johnny Sexton with Schmidt also preparing to recall captain Paul O’Connell, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien, who all successfully returned to Ireland colours following injury as replacements in the 40-9 victory over Samoa.
Fellow Lion Murray, though, could be under pressure to retain his place at scrum-half, despite a burgeoning playing relationship with Sexton, the Racing Metro fly-half also set to start having been rested with a hip flexor issue last weekend, when Ulster’s Paddy Jackson was named at out-half.
The Munster number nine has done little wrong in an Ireland shirt and further enhanced his reputation as arguably the stand-out scrum-half with the Lions in Australia, coming off the bench in the second and third Tests and more than holding his own against Wallabies mainstay Will Genia.
Yet Schmidt was unhappy with his backline’s kicking out of hand against the Samoans while Reddan, who replaced Murray on the hour, was recognised as having upped the tempo as Ireland kicked on with three late tries from the outside backs.
Inside centre Gordon D’Arcy is also under pressure with Luke Marshall breathing down his neck for a midfield berth alongside Brian O’Driscoll.
Sexton welcomed the increased competition for places in the half-backs with Jackson and Ian Madigan vying for the number two fly-half berth behind the Racing Metro star.
“I think the guys that were there last week, Conor and Paddy obviously, then Redser (Reddan) came on and picked up the pace of the game,” Sexton said. “It’s great that we’ve got competition as well and Australia have that too, so when the team is announced I’m hoping that I’ll be good enough to get selected.”
Sexton warned that opposite number Quade Cooper is more dangerous than ever as Australia prepare to visit the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
The Racing Metro out-half has happy memories of the Australians having steered the British & Irish Lions to a Test series victory Down Under during the summer. Yet he recognises that under new management in Ewen McKenzie and with the maverick Cooper reinstated as the Wallabies No 10 after a falling out with previous coach Robbie Deans, Saturday’s opponents are a different proposition to the team that foundered against the Lions with the now exiled James O’Connor at out-half.
“We’ll have a big battle trying to control the game against those guys, Genia is at the core of their team especially and Quade Cooper when he’s in the environment under McKenzie where he is given free reign to go out and play what he sees, we saw that in the summer with the Queensland Reds he was probably the one player who caused the Lions the most trouble in the whole tour in that first 30 minutes. Then the weather came in and it was a scrappy game but the first 30 minutes just showed what we knew he could do.”
How to contain Cooper, though, is another matter now he is enjoying a new lease of life under McKenzie.
“He has a full bag of tricks to make you look stupid. If you try and make him look stupid, he’ll make you look stupid — you know? If you rush out of the line or try and go for an interception, he can pull a string and you’re under your posts. We’ve done a decent job against him in the past and we can take comfort from that, but we know he’s in a different environment now and system and he’s probably more dangerous. He showed some really good signs against Italy (last Saturday) and is a quality player.”
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