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Simon Hick's View from the Frontline: You will meet a tall, dark stranger

Declan Kidney has gambled a lot on Conor Murray’s being the man to do a job at scrum half – in just his second senior Ireland start.

Conor Murray is put through his paces in Dunedin earlier today.
Conor Murray is put through his paces in Dunedin earlier today.
Image: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

THIS WILL BE Conor Murray’s second start for Ireland, and his first in a game they could possibly lose.

The rugby public just met him a few months ago across a crowded Thomond Park, they barely even know his second name, what colour his eyes are.

Justin Bieber ‘s star didn’t rise this fast.

Are a few Challenge Cup games enough to go on? Can the nation’s hopes be pinned on this tall dark stranger?

Kidney’s whole reputation rests on the result of this one. The win over Australia will be an asterix at the end of the chapter if Ireland don’t get through the group.

Now that the hard work has been done, there’s greater pressure on the side to deliver. Very few people can imagine Ireland going home on Monday, but three weeks ago very few could imagine us beating Australia.

Given the stakes, Kidney has shown he has very strong feelings on Murray. It would have been much easier to pick Eoin Reddan, a player who got Ireland into a winning position in their greatest ever World Cup win, and who is playing well. Nobody would have asked any questions. Now, if it all goes wrong, there will be an obvious point on which to hammer the head coach. There’s enough evidence to suggest it’s not a blind faith though.

When Murray came on against Australia the game was still in the balance. He looked composed, his technique didn’t suffer with the pressure, and most importantly, he didn’t try too hard.

All of his attributes came into effect that day – aggressive defence, strength in contact, solid decision-making and a simple, uncomplicated pass that found its target every time. We have yet to see his weaknesses in any detail, or how he copes behind a beaten pack, but chances are the Italians won’t be able to expose him in any meaningful way.

‘A nice young fella’

What we do know is he’s quiet off the pitch, and as O’Driscoll said today, is ‘a nice young fella’. He seems to be an extrovert on the pitch, however, squaring up to Kurtley Beale at one point, and shouting at his own forwards throughout.

He appears to have the respect of the other players as well. That’s particularly important when Ronan O’Gara is the man you’re passing the ball to.

He spoke after that Australia game like he was a fan, just one with a better view than the rest of us, admiring what he saw from the bench. He was as excited about what it meant for Irish rugby as he was about his involvment in it, as though he hadn’t come on and played a huge part in the victory.

His brain hasn’t had time to make the adjustment from underground to mainstream, it’s a magical whirl at the moment, a dream-like state, and that’s no bad thing.

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