Cooney impresses in Ireland cameo but Murray 'will be happy enough'
Both Ireland scrum-halves contributed impressive moments against Scotland.

FOR HIS BIGGEST critics, Conor Murray’s performance against Scotland essentially boils down to his pass being intercepted by Sam Johnson after a promising linebreak from Ireland.

Those who have bemoaned the 30-year-old scrum-half’s form in recent times will have immediately latched onto the pass as more evidence of Murray’s decline.

Johnny Sexton, the intended recipient, actually took the blame on his shoulders in saying he was “probably too wide and flat off Conor” in that instance. 

conor-murray-comes-up-against-adam-hastings Gary Carr / INPHO Conor Murray carries for Ireland against Scotland. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

There was more to Murray’s game than that single moment. Much of his passing was excellent, particularly when Ireland got onto the front-foot. Ireland’s box kicking is anathema to many fans but there were some strong efforts from Murray in this area too.

He also had one superb exiting kick from Ireland’s 22 to the halfway line, while he provided the assist for Johnny Sexton’s try, made three tackles, was positionally solid in defence – often occupying the backfield – while he supported Jordan Larmour’s first-half break well, and carried on three other occasions.

There were errors too, with a few wayward passes and a couple of underwhelming box kicks but, for the main part, it was a solid performance from Murray.

John Cooney, meanwhile, impressed off the bench in a 20-minute cameo as Murray’s replacement at scrum-half. 

Ireland had to defend for large parts of Cooney’s time on the pitch and he fronted up strongly in that regard, completing all eight of his tackles.

There were two excellent kicks from Cooney inside the Scotland half too, the first of them dinked over the ruck, low into space to bounce into touch in the Scotland 22 where the forwards could apply some pressure.

The second was a hanging box kick that Ireland very nearly won back only for an unfortunate knock-on after Andrew Conway’s excellent chase. While we didn’t see Cooney’s sniping game, it was a tidy showing from the Ulster man as he continues to keep the pressure on Murray.

“I thought John did well when he came on, I thought Conor did as well,” said Ireland boss Andy Farrell of his scrum-halves.

john-cooney-celebrates-a-penalty-for-his-side Gary Carr / INPHO Cooney celebrates as Ireland earn a big turnover. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

“I thought Conor played with higher tempo at times, he was right in the thick of it when we were going pretty well in the opposition 22 in the first half. And in the second half, he was looking for holes and getting out there a little bit more than what we’ve seen him in the past.

“Some of his kicking was exceptional, one or two went astray but, like everyone, there’s some things to work on. He’ll be happy enough, Conor, he worked tirelessly for a good stint there.

“John came on, he’ll be happy to get a good 20 minutes there, there wasn’t too much for him to do because the game started to get a little bit stop-start, but I thought he did very well.”

While we don’t have any sense of Farrell’s tendencies as a selector given that this is his first campaign in charge, it would be a surprise to see the Ireland boss make sweeping changes to his team for the visit of Wales on Saturday.

Garry Ringrose’s injury means Robbie Henshaw is likely to come into the team at 13, while Farrell will have to wait and see how Caelan Doris and Dave Kilcoyne progress through their return-to-play protocols after suffering concussions against the Scots.

Tadhg Furlong will be expected to recover after his huge 78-minute left him with debilitating cramp in both calves, meaning he had to be helped off the pitch.

Peter O’Mahony’s big contribution after replacing Doris early on was a reminder of his qualities at Test level, while Will Addison and Keith Earls may be back in the selection mix after missing some of the pre-Scotland training due to injury.

“We’ll see,” said Farrell. “There’s a few boys that are going to be bruised and battered anyway so we’ll see what happens.

“Continuity is one thing but at the heart of it, really, the only thing is what’s right for the team and the opposition we’re playing. So if we need to change we’ll do that.”

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