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Conor Murray and Jamison Gibson-Park.
Conor Murray and Jamison Gibson-Park.

Murray coming straight back at 9 for Ireland shouldn't be a foregone conclusion

The latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra features discussion of Jamison Gibson-Park’s impact.
Mar 1st 2021, 4:32 PM 9,649 22

IT’S OF MAJOR credit to Conor Murray that for the majority of his career with Ireland, there hasn’t really been a genuine debate about who should be starting in the number nine shirt.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell knows all about the Munster man’s qualities, having also worked with him on one of the scrum-half’s two Lions tours, but there’s no doubt Farrell has been hoping to see the longstanding incumbent put under more pressure for his place.

And Farrell seems to be getting to that point now thanks to the good form of Jamison Gibson-Park, as well as the emergence of 21-year-old Craig Casey, as discussed by Eoin Toolan and Murray Kinsella on today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra – an analysis podcast available to members of The42 every Monday.

With Murray sidelined due to a hamstring injury, Gibson-Park has started Ireland’s last two games against France and Italy, having been handed his Test debut by Farrell back in the autumn.

Casey won his first cap off the bench against Italy last weekend and has been in excellent form for Munster this season.

Murray is due to return from his hamstring issue in time for Ireland’s next Six Nations game against Scotland on Sunday 14 March but Gibson-Park’s good form means Eoin doesn’t feel it’s a foregone conclusion that Murray comes straight back into Ireland’s starting XV having not played for five weeks. 

“I don’t think it is,” said Eoin. “Even in terms of [Farrell's] credibility with the players because Gibson-Park is in form and has been one of Ireland’s standout attackers – from that perspective it’s important that he’s rewarded.

“Conor Murray’s key strength is probably his box-kicking but I thought Gibson-Park’s box-kicking was as accurate as any nine could have kicked at the weekend.

“Obviously Conor is a more physical presence defensively and we have seen some frailties in that sense from Gibson-Park but I think the way Ireland are trying to play the game, Gibson-Park suits it and Casey gives you a little bit of energy off the bench as well.

“I would hope that they stick with the two nines that were there at the weekend and give Casey a little bit more exposure at international level. His service is really crisp and he speeds up the game, has a good feel for it, and his quick-tap penalty was the catalyst for the Keith Earls try at the end. He had a really nice cameo when he came on.” 

craig-casey Craig Casey made his debut in Rome. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Eoin believes that Gibson-Park’s strengths tally with the attacking approach that Farrell and assistant coach Mike Catt have been encouraging in their Ireland team.

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“Gibson-Park is a very different nine to Conor Murray,” said Eoin. “He wants to play with tempo, he wants to change the speed of the game as often as he can.

“There was a quick-tap in the first half when Ireland are awarded a penalty and Robbie Henshaw turns to the touch judge, who has given the decision, and it looks like he’s thanking the touch judge but Gibson-Park has already gone.

“Henshaw should be there for the clean but Ireland get turned over, so that’s possibly Henshaw being caught up a little bit in the old regime where those quick taps might not have happened in the ‘B zone,’ where it was usually kick to the corner or even a kickable penalty.

“Ireland are still trying to make those things a little more habitual and reacting to what’s happening, but the positive sign is that a guy like Gibson-Park is trying to destructure the game and play with tempo.”

Today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra saw Eoin and Murray discussing Ireland’s win over Italy last weekend and what Farrell will have learned.

That also chatted about Fabien Galthié breaking the French bubble, as well as the high-profile refereeing errors in Wales’ win over England. Finally, the podcast welcomed Joey Carbery’s return for Munster and gave a nod to Jack Regan’s debut for the Highlanders in New Zealand.

You can sign up as a member of The42 here in order to listen to the extra rugby podcasts and a wide range of other shows on sportswriting, football, GAA, and coaching, as well as getting weekly newsletters and access to our lively member-only Whatsapp groups.

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