Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 4°C
# Close Call
Farrell explains his decision to pick Conor Murray ahead of John Cooney
The Ireland boss feels the Munster scrum-half is in great form.

MANY IRELAND FANS had hoped to see Andy Farrell’s first starting XV include Ulster scrum-half John Cooney, who has delivered several eye-catching performances for his provinces this season after missing out on World Cup selection.

But the highly-experienced Conor Murray retains his place in Ireland’s number nine shirt for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Scotland, with Cooney backing him up from the bench.

john-cooney Dan Sheridan / INPHO John Cooney will be on the bench for Ireland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Farrell praised Murray for the impression he has made over the past week at Ireland’s training camp in Portugal, from where they fly home to Dublin this evening.

The Ireland boss also indicated that Cooney had missed some parts of training due to the return-to-play protocols after suffering a head injury.

30-year-old Murray has been the first-choice Ireland scrum-half since 2011 but Ulster’s Cooney and Leinster man Luke McGrath have closed the gap on him in recent times.

Speaking at Ireland’s training base at The Campus in Quinta do Lago this afternoon after naming his team to face Scotland, coach Andy Farrell said he could understand the calls for Cooney’s inclusion but explained why Murray had got the starting nod. 

“Well, we watch and we see how the group’s taking shape and I think, first and foremost, Conor has been great,” said Farrell.

“He’s been great around the group, he’s been in good form, he’s in a very determined mood and certainly in a leadership role as well, he’s very experienced,” said Farrell. “He’s in great form.

“I understand all the chat around John because so is he. He’s a good player, but in our squad we have three good scrum-halves and Luke [McGrath], he’s the one who misses out. He’s been training really well too.

“I feel for Luke but we’ve got to make a decision and we go with Conor to start with and John will come on and do a good job for us.

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max-deegan-and-conor-murray Dan Sheridan / INPHO Murray [right] starts for Ireland at 9. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“John’s in great form, he’s part of this squad and he’s in fine form. He has had a few days that he missed through the HIA protocols but still, as I said before, Conor has been going great guns in camp and John has been supporting him within that role.”

Farrell said he had welcomed the selection headache at scrum-half, as well as elsewhere in his group. It leaves him excited about the matchday 23 he has named.

Another area where Farrell had a big call to make was in the midfield, where Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki were vying for the number 12 shirt.

Aki will partner Garry Ringrose in the starting team to face the Scots, with Henshaw wearing the number 23 shirt on the bench.

“We’ve got three centres that are involved and Chris Farrell and Stu McCloskey who are in great form as well,” said Farrell of that decision. “You’ve got to make a choice somewhere a long the line. There’s not that much in it.

“I’m a massive Robbie Henshaw fan and Robbie knows that. You’ve got to make a decision and for this week, for this week, we’ll go with Bundee and Garry Ringrose, who’s in great form. We’ll see how that goes and Robbie is there raring to go off the bench.” 

Meanwhile, Farrell confirmed that wing Keith Earls, who is struggling with a knee injury, “hasn’t trained with us yet but he’s in good form and has done his last rehab run today.”

Fullback Will Addison “had a few up and down days, but he’s going to be fine.”

“We’re all interested in the first day against Scotland but this is a five game competition, and we’ve got to make sure that we have a decent squad throughout so hopefully the lucky 23 that get to take the field at the weekend is going to do a job for the squad and we’ll see where we’ll go after that,” said Farrell.

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