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Munster satisfied with Murray's form as pressure comes on for Ireland spot

Johann van Graan says the scrum-half has been ‘really good’ in the red jersey recently.

MUNSTER BOSS JOHANN van Graan says the province are satisfied with Conor Murray’s provincial form as he comes under pressure for his position as Ireland’s first-choice scrum-half.

John Cooney’s superb performances for Ulster have pushed him into strong contention for Ireland’s number nine shirt when the Andy Farrell era gets underway with a Six Nations opener against Scotland in Dublin on 1 February.

conor-murray-dejected-after-the-game Murray is Ireland's incumbent at scrum-half. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Murray has been Ireland’s front-line scrum-half since breaking into the team in the 2011/12 season, but the likes of Cooney, Leinster men Luke McGrath and Jamison Gibson-Park, and Connacht’s Caolin Blade provide other options for Farrell.

It is Cooney’s form that is of most interest, with the Ulsterman’s influence for his province at an all-time high this season in the wake of missing out on selection for Joe Schmidt’s World Cup squad last year.

Munster boss van Graan, however, says Murray’s form in recent times has been good, while pointing out that his forward pack’s struggles against Ulster last weekend made life difficult for Murray in his head-to-head against Cooney.

“I thought the last two games he was really good and against Saracens away I thought he managed the game really well,” said van Graan of Murray.

“He kicked well, defended well and no issue with his pass. I really felt he managed the game pretty well on Friday night [against Ulster].

“Any nine and 10, if your forwards don’t dominate it makes it difficult for you and I thought he did that pretty well on Friday night.

“I’ve said before, that’s why there’s a national coach and he will select whoever he feels is the best. For Munster, the last two games, I’ve been satisfied with Conor.”

Van Graan will be hoping for a high-quality performance from Murray and other senior players like captain Peter O’Mahony and number eight CJ Stander on Sunday in Paris, with the province needing to beat Racing 92 to keep their Champions Cup campaign alive.

rory-scannell Munster trained in UL yesterday. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Munster come into the game in poor form and having won two of their last seven games, albeit in a difficult run of fixtures and having to rotate their team due to Ireland internationals being given two weeks off from playing over the festive period.

But van Graan retains confidence that Munster can pull off a huge result on the road.

“I believe in this squad, an experienced team,” he said. “The performances in Europe, in my view, have been good. We got our five points against Ospreys, which was the start of the competition, we did what we needed to.

“The Racing game was a fantastic game of rugby. The big moment in that game was when Finn [Russell] spotted Jeremy [Loughhman, who was injured] and he went straight through just after we drew level at 13-13. That’s what rugby is about.

“JJ [Hanrahan] had a massive moment to kick it from the sideline, we had one moment to win it 20 seconds from time [when Hanrahan was wide with a drop-goal effort] and we didn’t use it.

“The Saracens game [at Thomond Park] was very tough with the conditions in that second half. We came away with a win.

“Again from our side, a really good game of rugby in London [away to Saracens]. We lost a few guys to injury but we played well that afternoon. We had an opportunity at 9-3 to go to 12-3, didn’t use it and the two Vunipola brothers really brought it.

“So that’s the European challenge for us as a group and that’s the Munster way. We’ve made it difficult for ourselves and now we’ve got to get through this on Sunday if we want to progress in this competition for this year.”

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Murray Kinsella

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