For years Conor Murray has been a cornerstone of the Irish team. But with the way Ireland have been playing, is it maybe time to replace the scrum half?
Murray has great vision and awareness, especially close to the try line. He has skills which a lot of players around the world will be envious of. There can be no doubt he is a class player and deserves a spot in the Irish side.
However, when looking at the last few matches, there is something lacking in the team. Perhaps it is the lack of security at stand off, with Johnny Sexton likely to be withdrawn from the pitch after every big knock, but perhaps it is something else.
Maybe it is the same thing that happened in the last few games before Peter Stringer was pushed to the bench by Tomás O’Leary and Eoin Reddan. Perhaps it is a lack of direction at scrum half and a lack of urgency and creativity there.
One of the things Ireland does constantly is play an exhausting game with their forwards. They play the short ball over and over again. This is incredibly predictable and with lightning legs and fast and steady hands like Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo, Robbie Henshaw and the Kearney brothers, you want to play an expansive game, especially when you yourself have proven it to be incredibly effective on nearly every occasion you do it.
But what seems to be missing there is someone marshalling the forwards and getting in everyone’s faces. Compared to Scotland with Greig Laidlaw, England with Ben Youngs and Danny Care, Wales with Gareth Davies and even New Zealand, with their pick of Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara, Ireland have no presence at one of the key positions on the field.
Murray is calm and composed and is hardly ever seen to give directions. Of course, that does not mean he does not do that, merely that we cannot see it. But when one can see it with all the live wire scrum halves, one does begin to wonder. And it is not the first time it happened.
With Stringer Ireland got some amazing results and then began to slump away. When he was phased out with O’Leary and Reddan, things changed. There was a new presence on the field in that key position, someone who was new to the squad and was willing to try things out to retain that spot and lift the team to greater heights, and it worked. It was still a few years before O’Gara retired, and there was plenty of time to build that relationship and then bring in Sexton for O’Gara.
But of course, if the answer to Ireland’s woes is to replace Murray at scrum half, then we still lack a key part of that answer: who to replace him with?
Let’s face it, unlike in New Zealand, quality scrum halves do not grow on trees, nor are they found at the end of rainbows. They are dropped off by the stork and then raised on a diet of GAA and rugby and trained up from childhood to be talented rugby players. Eventually, some of them turn out to be good scrum halves, and a small number of those are then found worthy to play for their country.
Connacht’s Kieran Marmion and Ulster’s Paul Marshall have been making waves for a bit now, and behind Reddan at Leinster, Luke McGrath is shouting ever more loudly.
It remains to be seen whether they make the grade in the end, but one thing is certain: someone will have to step up to the plate, because 35-year-old Reddan will soon disappear from the bench and Murray will need an understudy, if not a replacement.
Paul Peerdeman, Pundit Arena
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