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Conor Murray has emerged as a leader in the Irish team - Justin Marshall

The Munster scrum-half has excelled in the green jersey since crashing over for a try against New Zealand last year.

Conor Murray will be hoping to start Sunday's clash with New Zealand.
Conor Murray will be hoping to start Sunday's clash with New Zealand.
Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

BARRING ANY SELECTION surprises this afternoon, Sunday’s Test match between Ireland and New Zealand should pit two of rugby’s finest young scrum-halves into battle.

While Conor Murray earned a surprise promotion to the Ireland team just in time for the 2011 World Cup, Aaron Smith was forced to wait for his chance with New Zealand after the Webb Ellis trophy was secured.

Murray did battle with Eoin Reddan for his first year on the international scene before securing the No.9 jersey. Smith faced no such challenge as excellent displays from the get-go confirmed him as the All Blacks’ 2015 World Cup scrum-half in waiting.

The Munster man is five months younger than Highlanders’ Smith and several tries behind the New Zealander. Murray’s first, and to-date only, try for Ireland came against the All Blacks in the 22-19 loss in Christchurch. Smith dived over for his first, too, in that game but has gone on to score in wins over South Africa [twice], Argentina [thrice] and France.

Former New Zealand scrum-half Justin Marshall told TheScore.ie he hopes both players are selected from the off. “I saw Murray quite a bit on the Lions Tour this summer. He has developed into a very good scrumhalf,” said Marshall.

Murray has that ability to make breaks and challenge defenders. He’s a powerful player too and is mentally strong — he backs himself. That’s what it’s all about. He has emerged as a leader, along with Jonathan Sexton, in the Irish team and one that will be there for years to come.”

If Marshall is effusive in his praise of the Irishman, he is just shy of delirium when he comes to the subject of Smith. “Aaron has been one of, if not the, finds since the World Cup,” he said. “The more and more he plays, the better he seems to get.

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“He gets to the breakdowns so quick, is so fit, and has a great, accurate pass. His kicking game has really come on and his tackling is nice and solid.”

The All Blacks have been guilty of throwing all of their eggs into one basket in recent years — see Dan Carter and World Cup injuries — and have followed suit with Smith. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, his back-up, has played 14 Tests but only started once, against Japan two weeks ago.

Hoping for injuries often leads to rugby karma — Sexton tweaked his hamstring less than two hours after Carter limped off against England — but if anything were to befall Smith before kick-off on Sunday it would be a scrumptious, tangible crumb of hope.

imageMurray scored a try in the second Test defeat to New Zealand last year. INPHO/Billy Stickland

*Ex New Zealand International scrum-half Justin Marshall was in Dublin to announce an incredible prize on the Guinness Plus App. For the New Zealand match, Guinness Plus is giving rugby fans the chance to win the opportunity for them and three friends to enjoy a pint and talk all things rugby with Irish International legend Keith Wood at their local pub.

For a chance to win people simply need to download the Guinness Plus App and ‘check-in’ to their local participating pub on Sunday, 24 November before 11.59pm. The Guinness Plus App is available to download for iPhone and Android Smartphones from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store now.

Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >

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Patrick McCarry

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