Eddie Jones has been full of mischief this past week teasing about how he might play forwards as backs and vice-versa in an attempt to develop hybrid players for England, even inventing new terminology for the position Jonathan Joseph will play versus Georgia.
However, it’s now Ireland’s turn, Andy Farrell floating the notion of maybe implementing his own major reshuffle when they visit Twickenham next Saturday for their Autumn Nations Cup clash with the English.
Andy Farrell’s side opened their account on Friday night with a dominant 32-9 win over a miserable Wales, but the victory wasn’t without its hiccups. Skipper Johnny Sexton trudged off with a 29th-minute hamstring issue while his replacement, the debut-making Billy Burns, also pulled up lame with a bang to the head and departed prematurely.
Sexton is set for a scan this Saturday to ascertain the extent of his problem and he isn’t as yet ruling himself out of the London trip. But Ireland felt they came away from their win over Wales realising they have a potential alternative right under their nose if Sexton and Burns are ruled out and a change is needed.
Dropped as the starting Ireland scrum-half to accommodate the first start for Jamison Gibson-Park, it wasn’t until the 65th minute that Conor Murray was required by coach Farrell. It wasn’t to replace Gibson-Park either, as an emergency No10 was needed.
— Autumn Nations Cup ? (@autumnnations) November 13, 2020
Come full-time, Murray trooped off having played a confident part in pushing out a 19-9, ten-point lead out to the comfortable 23-point winning margin that Ireland’s overall performance had merited. The impressive cameo wasn’t lost on Farrell.
“He thinks he’s is fly-half already,” he said of Murray, who kicked eight points for good measure while orchestrating the late Ireland flourish that eventually did justice on the scoreboard to their dominance. “He did pretty well, didn’t he?
“Conor’s played there before for us. He is a smart rugby player, he understands what is going on across the backline, not just as a half-back, and he steered the ship really well for us. He is a genuine option there definitely.”
Sexton, who suggested his hamstring issue didn’t feel too serious, added: “Conor played well. Sometimes when you’re there for so long in Conor’s case, people try and find niggles that aren’t there. Conor came on and showed some great stuff at No10.”
The last time Ireland didn’t have Sexton available to start at Twickenham, Ross Byrne, the recent sub out-half in the Six Nations games with Italy and France, was chosen at No10 and he endured a torrid time. England easily won an August 2019 pre-World Cup friendly 57-15 and the limp performance resulted in the Leinster back-up losing out on World Cup selection.
“Yeah, I’ll say it to him [Farrell] and see how he reacts,” said Murray when asked if he would be interested in wearing the No1o jersey. “Genuinely I have been in the team for a while now and training and playing at this level week in week out with the tens outside you, having a bit of an understanding of what they are wanting from you as a No9 did make it a little bit easier just slotting in one position over… it was enjoyable.“
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 13, 2020
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