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'He’s brimming at the minute. We’re expecting good things from Conor'

Andy Farrell has opted to keep John Cooney on the Ireland bench for the Scotland clash.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Andy Farrell is expecting scrum-half Conor Murray to justify his faith with a strong showing against Scotland in Saturday’s Six Nations opener in Dublin.

The 30-year-old had come under pressure for his place in Ireland’s number nine shirt from Ulster’s John Cooney and Leinster man Luke McGrath.

But the Munster scrum-half will continue as Ireland’s first-choice scrum-half as the Farrell era gets underway this weekend, with the new boss stating that Murray’s strong performances at Ireland’s week-long training camp in Portugal had convinced him.

conor-murray-dejected Murray will look to make a statement on Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We’ve had three really competitive sessions and Conor has been really really good,” said Farrell yesterday before Ireland flew home to Dublin.

“There’s been a lot of chat, one-on-ones, and he’s brimming at the minute.

“We’re expecting good things from Conor at the weekend.

“He’s unbelievably determined to kick his career on. I’m excited about his future as well as the other two nines.”

However, Farrell insisted that Murray being selected for the opening game doesn’t guarantee that he will be in situ for the entire Six Nations, with the Ireland head coach promising to reassess his options after every fixture.

Cooney will have his chance off the bench against the Scots and Farrell is willing to be convinced.

“I am open-minded, honestly,” said Farrell. “I’ll make whatever choices are right for the team. Competition for places is at the forefront of my mind and I’ll watch for the rest of this week and I’ll watch on Saturday and we’ll assess where we need to go.

“The Six Nations is unbelievably attritional and I suppose we’ll see a few different combinations along the way.”

As for Murray and Cooney’s team-mates, they’re simply pleased to have two high-quality operators vying for the starting scrum-half slot, with McGrath also in contention.

“I think Coons has been playing out of his skin for Ulster and, first of all, it’s just really good to see him getting his reward for that by being in the Six Nations squad and even being on the bench is a massive statement over the course of the season,” said Cooney’s Ulster team-mate, Jacob Stockdale.

“Mur is obviously a really really talented player and has been a real stalwart in the squad for the last number of years. Mur hasn’t been playing badly either, he was man-of-the-match there in the last round of the Champions Cup.

conor-murray Murray's performance will be under severe scrutiny. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think they’re both brilliant players and it’s probably a bit of a 50-50 between the two of them and I’d say I’d be very surprised if you don’t see Coons starting a game in the Six Nations and it getting rotated around a wee bit.”

Farrell’s starting team for this weekend shows five personnel changes to the Ireland side that started the World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, with one positional shift as CJ Stander moves from number eight to blindside to make way for debutant Caelan Doris.

“There is a newish plan but we’re not going to completely reinvent the wheel early doors,” said Farrell. “We have five training sessions to be able to do that and CJ knows where he fits within that plan. We’ll build the rest of it throughout the week but he’s in there because of the balance of what we want to see from our back row.”

The rejigged back row means Munster captain Peter O’Mahony drops to the bench, with Farrell stressing how impressive the Cork man’s response has been.

“Pete, he typifies our group – he’s been absolutely sensational since I gave him the news yesterday,” said Farrell.

“He comes from good stock, Pete. He’s been brought up in the right way and how he’s conducted himself since the news yesterday, it’s been all about the team.

“Straight away after I told him he was on the bench, he was the first guy on the computers helping other lads to know their jobs. He’s been brought up the right way and he’s been sensational today in training as well.”

Farrell is excited to see what 21-year-old Leinster man Doris can bring on his debut.

caelan-doris Caelan Doris [left] with Leinster team-mate Will Connors. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I like the fact that he is just himself,” said Farrell of Doris. “He’s not fazed by anything. He’s come into a group and it’s his first time into an international scene but he’s been exactly himself.

“The training has been competitive. It’s been a bit physical at times and you can see his attributes all over that – he doesn’t accept coming second best as far as the contact of the game is concerned and that’s pretty impressive for a young kid.”

Farrell is set to give 21-year-old Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher, just back from a hand injury, a debut off the bench this weekend too.

“For a guy who’s been out for a while, who’s been hoping he’s going to be fit and raring to go, he’s in good nick,” said Farrell.

“We’ve put a lot of set-piece stuff under pressure, we’ve done a lot of 15 v 15. I just stand there and watch and I have absolutely no doubt he’s going to come on and add to our performance off the bench.” 

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