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'I think if Conor isn't an 8/10 this week, you can't really keep picking him'

Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman make their cases for Conor Murray and John Cooney respectively.

Conor Murray and John Cooney, a year ago today, applaud fans after Ireland's defeat to England in Dublin.
Conor Murray and John Cooney, a year ago today, applaud fans after Ireland's defeat to England in Dublin.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ON THIS THURSDAY’S Rugby Weekly by The42 — our fourth Six Nations podcast of the week if you’re a The42 member — Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella sat down with Gavan Casey to give their final thoughts on Ireland’s victory over Scotland and look ahead to the visit of Wayne Pivac’s Welsh this weekend.

Also discussed were France’s secret coaching weapon from South Africa, Eddie Jones’ possible malaise in his current role, and the idea of ‘change for change’s sake’ versus ‘stability for stability’s sake’ when it comes to Andy Farrell’s team selection — hat-tip to our members rugby WhatsApp group member Eoghan for that one.

There was, of course, also a Conor Murray-John Cooney debate, with our own Murray — he of the Kinsellas — agreeing with Farrell’s decision to stick with the Munster scrum-half for Saturday. Bernard, meanwhile, argued that while the 2018 Grand Slam winner isn’t holding Ireland back by any means, Cooney might prove the catalyst to move them forward should he be given the chance.

You can listen to the full episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods, but here’s a five-minute segment in written form, beginning with Murray Kinsella’s reasoning for why Conor Murray is to his mind, by a whisker, deserving of his position in the nine jersey.

Murray Kinsella: “I’d be leaning towards Conor Murray. I don’t think he’s playing as well as he could, I don’t think Ireland are going to play as well as they could in 2018 — that was his peak, he hasn’t got back there — but I just feel like everyone’s picking up on the errors that he’s making. Yeah, the intercept: he shouldn’t have thrown that pass. It wasn’t completely all on him, it was a poor moment but everything else he did in the game was solid.

“There was nothing spectacular, I know, but he had a couple more snipes around the ruck, he carried four times, he linked up well with Larmour when he made that break well. [He had] good positional play in the backfield, I thought some of his kicking was good…

I don’t think he played badly and again, the temptation with John Cooney is just to base your opinion on his superb, x-factor moments in attack — and definitely they are brilliant. But I don’t know how rigidly people are watching him pass every time, kick every time. The way performance in Clermont definitely counted against him in terms of how he managed that game.

“So, listen, I absolutely think it’s neck and neck and I’m not trying to talk down John Cooney’s performances. He’s been brilliant and he has that incredible confidence about him at the moment — it’s absolutely fizzing off him. But I’d probably be sticking with Conor Murray.”

conor-murray-and-john-cooney Murray and Cooney on press duty together last week. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Gavan Casey: “It may be just the case, Bernard, that for supporters, for everybody watching, there is an appetite for the spectacular that Conor Murray doesn’t provide — just based on what we saw in the World Cup and what we saw in 2019; that those x-factor moments might provide a little bit more excitement, basically.

“But at the same time, it’s quite an easy thing to say, ‘Just start one guy over the other because he can produce these moments’, whereas there are intangible things, and tangible things as well, that Murray does better than Cooney.”

Bernard Jackman: “Yeah, I can understand completely why Farrell gave Conor the start last week. I thought it was a really smart thing to do. Did he steal the show? No, he didn’t. But Cooney then got 20 minutes’ experience and got to show what he can do.

I would argue that maybe Cooney’s confidence and his form could actually be a spark for others. Conor’s playing fine — there’s absolutely no problem. He’s certainly not holding the team back or anything like that, but he’s not at the level he was where he used to bring other people into the game, where he nearly became someone that the opposition were spending a lot of time talking about. That’s not the case at the moment. So that would be more my argument: could Cooney be the spark that Ireland maybe need? And it only takes one or two moments for the whole thing to change.

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“He has that confidence at the moment. And also, for Ireland, he’s not going to be the game manager because Johnny [Sexton] will do a lot of it. He’s not going to goal-kick for Ireland either which is obviously a big part of [his game].

I think if Conor isn’t an eight out of 10 this week, you can’t really keep picking him. You’ve got to give Cooney a shot.

john-cooney-and-conor-murray-during-a-scrum Murray observes Cooney's put-in to an Ulster scrum. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Gavan: “Is there an argument to be made that Conor Murray, at the moment, is 80% the player he was, purely on the basis that he’s 30 years old, has been playing at the highest level for 10 years, his style of play is extremely abrasive, and that every athlete actually has a [physical limit]?”

Bernard: “Nah, he’ll come back again. I think he was on a dip and he’s actually on the way up again.

I think he’s turned the corner to a certain extent. Now, to get back to the heights that he was at, I think he’s about 20% off that, but I’ve no doubt he could be still playing the way he played when he’s 34, 35.

“He’s just in a little bit of a rut — obviously injury-enforced, some of it; confidence maybe not as high.

The whole fact that people are saying he should be dropped — that’s some change from a year ago and that’ll affect him a little bit. So, he’s just got to find his rhythm and find his way out of it, and whether that’s for Ireland or whether that’s for Munster, that will come.

“And the fact that we have someone to talk about potentially replacing him, I think, is a positive thing. Like, how would he react to being dropped? That could be the spark. I don’t know. I’m not saying he’s relaxed and complacent, but just at the moment, things aren’t flowing for him. He’s not playing badly. He’s just not flowing to the level he can play at.”

conor-murray-and-john-cooney Murray and Cooney in conversation in Abbotstown. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Murray: “I’m going to add to final things.

I don’t think he’s as fit as he was, and I don’t think the IRFU player management helps the players sometimes. I’d imagine over Christmas he would have liked to have played those two games instead of getting two weeks off. I don’t think he’s as physically sharp as he was. I think he thrives on a good run of games.

“And the other thing to consider is the kind of ‘cohesion’. I know that’s a coaches’ term, but considering the partnership, I’d imagine if you asked Johnny Sexton, he’d want Conor Murray at nine because they have that relationship. It started off rockily but now they just need to glance at each other. You saw for the try [against Scotland] — I know they were playing penalty advantage and they probably had that planned — but it was just a glance. I don’t even know if they made a call. And they work together really well, so that comes into it as well.”

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to preview Ireland-Wales and England’s trip to Murrayfield


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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