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The Ireland reason why 2021 Lions captain Murray is left on bench

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ian Rutherford/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Andy Farrell has explained why Ireland elected to go into their Autumn Nations Series battle versus the All Blacks this Saturday with Conor Murray, the 2021 Lions tour captain when Alun Wyn Jones out injured, held in reserve on the replacements bench for the second weekend in a row. The 32-year-old flew out of Edinburgh last June having been appointed skipper by Warren Gatland after Jones was ruled out of the South African trip with an injury versus Japan.  

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The enormity of the appointment seemed to affect Murray’s form as he only made the bench for the opening Test, by which stage Jones had miraculously recovered and had flown over to Cape Town to resume the captaincy for the series versus the Springboks. 

Murray did bounce back to be the starting No9 in the second Test but he was again benched for the series-deciding third Test, losing his battle once more to Ali Price and that No2 status now mirrors his current position in the pecking order with Ireland. 

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The Munster scrum-half had started in 81 of his 89 Ireland caps coming into this year’s Autumn Nations as he had long been the preferred starter under Declan Kidney, Joe Schmidt and initially Farrell. It was last November when there was the first inkling that his status might change as Jamison Gibson-Park was picked to start the Nations Cup games versus Wales and England with Murray consigned to the bench.

However, he fired back from that situation in the Six Nations to restore his reputation as the Ireland No1 scrum-half but he is now battling a rival who is suddenly far more comfortable with the demands of Test level rugby than he was a year ago and it left Murray winning his 90th Ireland cap from the bench last weekend.

That left Gibson-Park free to kill Japan in the opening 19 minutes, two slick passes and a clever kick in behind creating the opening three Ireland tries and he went on to score the fourth try himself in a coming of age performance by the 29-year-old from New Zealand who will now start against his native country. “We thought Jamison played really well and deserves another shot at starting,” reckoned Farrell.

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“He is more comfortable in his own skin at this level now, his maturity and his leadership have gone through the roof at this type of level and I thought he had an excellent game last week, so he gets the chance again.”

Ireland will take the field on Saturday in Dublin with the same line-up that was announced on Thursday after a virus test scare on Friday was put to bed without the loss of any of their players. Their only starting XV change from last week’s win over Japan they had announced was Iain Henderson coming in at second row for fellow Lions tour pick Tadhg Beirne. 

“We thought that last week that Tadhg was better suited to the Japan game and we feel that at the start of this game Iain is better suited to start,” explained Farrell. “One hundred per cent Tadhg played really well last week. He will come on in whatever position it is and finish the game really well for us.”

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