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Andy Farrell has revealed 'biggest compliment I could pay Conor'

By PA
(Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Andy Farrell has claimed he is in awe of Conor Murray after handing the scrum-half a rare recent start on the occasion of his 100th Test cap for Ireland. Munster man Murray will become his country’s eighth centurion on Saturday when world champions South Africa visit a sold-out Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

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The 33-year-old has been a mainstay of the Irish team for more than a decade after making his international debut against France in 2011 but has slipped behind Jamison Gibson-Park in the pecking order in the past year.

Despite restricting him to just one start since the 2021 Six Nations, head coach Farrell hailed Murray as a top-class bloke and a legend of Irish rugby during a glowing tribute on Thursday. “It’s pretty special because we all know that to be able to get to that type of milestone what it really does take,” said Farrell.

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“When you are a coach or when you are a player, you see all the ups and downs and all the pressures that come in from all sorts of directions and you see everyone wants to move on to what they perceive to be the next best thing.

“I just think somebody who stands up to be counted time and time again, to get to a point like that, I’m in awe of it because the hardest thing is to stay at the top.

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“Of course, there are ups and downs but the biggest compliment I could pay Conor – he is a legend of Irish rugby and his abilities are second to none – is that he is a top, top-class bloke. I don’t know anyone who has a bad word to say about him. We are all obsessed with rugby but when it comes to how he has managed himself throughout his career – and there are big things still to come – he is classed as a fantastic human being by his peers.”

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Murray will join Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Cian Healy, Paul O’Connell, John Hayes and captain Johnny Sexton on the exclusive list of Ireland centurions – yet he has not started at international level since victory over Argentina last autumn. Leinster’s Gibson-Park has to settle for a place on the bench against the Springboks, having not played competitively since the series win in New Zealand in July due to a hamstring issue.

With Ireland in form and currently top of the global rankings, Murray faces a challenge to dislodge Gibson-Park on a permanent basis ahead of next year’s World Cup. “He is a tough old character, Conor,” continued Farrell. “He’s steely strong mentally and he cares a lot about his own game and he gets a chance now to show us how he wants to push forward.

“It’s a respectful, competitive battle. Conor has been an unbelievable ear for Jamison because of his experience. You would definitely think that Conor would be thinking, ‘I’ll just leave him alone and let him find out for himself’ but Conor has been all over, helping Jamison be the player that Jamison has been from the start.

He is a fantastic human being. And Jamison, over the last ten days, has been exactly the same back and that is exactly what we want in our environment.”

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Farrell has made two enforced changes for the South Africa clash, with centre Garry Ringrose and wing Robert Baloucoune coming in for the suspended Bundee Aki and the injured James Lowe. Ulster wing Baloucoune is set to win a third Test cap after a torn hip tendon ruled him out of the All Blacks tour.

“We feel he is ready, that he can offer something different,” Farrell said of the 25-year-old. “It’s up to Rob – and his teammates helping him – to grab the opportunity and show what he is about at the top level.”

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