Ireland v Australia
Leaving Conor Murray out of Ireland’s side to face Australia tomorrow is part of Joe Schmidt’s mission to develop a well-balanced squad ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
Murray, along with centre Gordon D’Arcy, were the high-profile omissions yesterday as Schmidt made six changes to the side that won 40-9 over Samoa in his first game as national team boss last Saturday.
Paul O’Connell returns to the starting line-up as captain, replacing Mike McCarthy at lock having made his comeback from a calf injury as a substitute against Samoa. Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien made similar reappearances and will now start against the Wallabies while fly-half Johnny Sexton resumes, after he was rested last weekend.
Munster and Lions scrum-half Murray, though, must make way for Leinster’s Eoin Reddan, who is reunited with former provincial team-mate Sexton in the half-back partnership which started the famous victory over Australia at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
Murray, 24, is included on a bench that sees Ian Madigan get the nod over Paddy Jackson, last week’s starting fly-half, as cover for Sexton with Robbie Henshaw included at the expense of two-try debutant Dave Kearney and Munster tighthead prop Stephen Archer replacing Declan Fitzpatrick.
D’Arcy, meanwhile, cedes the No.12 jersey to Luke Marshall and Schmidt backed his matchday squad to get the job done against Australia, saying it was not a warning shot that no-one was safe in their positions but a chance to have “30, maybe 35 players with the ability to play international rugby”.
“It is less high alert, it is more trying to grow the collective,” Schmidt said. “As we saw last year there is a real risk in not having the opportunity to mix selection up a little bit while at the same time keeping selection strong.
“We would be the first to acknowledge that Australia are one of the world powers in international rugby. They are going to be incredibly tough to beat and we feel we have put a good team out.
“It was a bit like last week as well. We felt Samoa ranked ahead of us.
“We made some calls that probably people didn’t expect to be made but if we don’t do that, then we get very narrow in our selection, and I think experience would tell us over the last two years we will be missing some of our players some of the time.
“The fact Paul [O’Connell] and Brian [O’Driscoll] have not been on the same field in a Test jersey for two years and if that happens again, then we have to try be as prepared as we can be.”
As for his choice of scrum-half, Schmidt said of picking Reddan: “It’s less a head-off than ‘in place of’. Because Conor started last week, Eoin is starting this week and it gives him an opportunity to put his hand up as well.
“I think Conor did well last week, I don’t think there was anything the matter with his game.
“I think he cover-defended particularly well, especially early when there was a couple of line breaks. I think his service was fine as well.
“Coming in the autumn series we had a mindset that we were going to try to grow the squad to a degree — probably grow the starting 15 so as not to have to rely on the same starting 15.
“Look, we’re happy with Conor; it’s about giving an opportunity.
“It’s the same with Gordon D’Arcy; it’s about giving an opportunity to Luke Marshall.
“We’re delighted with Paddy Jackson to be honest and it’s unlucky for him but we just feel that Ian Madigan gives us better cover off the bench.
“He has played 12 and 15 and he covers 10, obviously. We feel that Johnny [Sexton] was rested last week and he comes in fresh.”
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