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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Jordi Murphy is out to lay down the law against England

Leinster back-rower could be the chosen one to replace Heaslip

Jordi Murphy arrives for squad training
Jordi Murphy arrives for squad training
Leinster's Jordi Murphy. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

NOT long ago, Ireland without Jamie Heaslip was tantamount to Ant without Dec!

You just didn't see it.

And then smack! A shoulder injury keeps him away from Italy and a thuggish knee from Pascal Pape probably takes him out of the rest of the Six Nations.

Leinster's breakaway forward Jordi Murphy was the man in the middle of the back row against Italy and he must stand as the favourite to return in place of the Naas man.

The options are limited, partly down to Heaslip's omnipresence over the last number of years, partly down to Robin Copeland's own injury problems and CJ Stander's ineligibility.

It is a season too soon for Jack Conan, who confessed to a sense of disappointment at how he handled the step-up to the Irish Wolfhounds against the English Saxons the week before the start of the Six Nations.

ELIMINATION

By process of elimination, this leaves Ireland coach Joe Schmidt with a straight choice between turning to Murphy or returning Peter O'Mahony to the number eight berth and placing Iain Henderson on the blindside.

Schmidt likes to keep everyone on their toes by keeping them guessing about his thought process on how best to go about beating England.

Murphy has to treat England like they are Zebre last Friday night.

"I approach it like any other week," he said.

"It's not difficult. You've got to look at it like any other game.

"It can't be any different preparation-wise to, say, the Italy week or the French week.

"You still have to put in 100 per cent at training to put your hand up, get Joe's frame of mind, make him want to pick you."

The workaholic Murphy was lauded for his 19 carries into the teeth of the Italian defence.

The only problem was in how he struggled to break the gain line.

"I would have liked the 30 or 40 metre break. But, sure, that doesn't always happen. That's the way of it," he added.

"I tried to put myself in good positions and, unfortunately, they defended really well. I just didn't profit from any of them really.

"Collectively, I thought we did well and, by carrying that much, I felt I was doing my part, freeing up space for other people. It is just one of those things. Some days you can literally make a 100 metres gain overall on your carries. On other days, you won't make many."

The super-vigilant England back row of James Haskell, under-valued captain Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola is built for destruction with and without the ball.

It can be seen as a mass of moving muscle working under a tight-knit umbrella of organisation designed by Stuart Lancaster and his cohorts.

"The three of them Robshaw, Haskell ad Vunipola have really got good chemistry together at the moment," reflected Murphy.

"They've all got incredible work-rate and they are big boys as well.

"I thought they really neutralised the Welsh back-row when they played them and they did well again against Italy."

The ingrained belief that courses through Murphy has taken him through the stalled traffic of Rhys Ruddock and Kevin McLaughlin, both injured, and Dominic Ryan at Leinster and the road block that is Munster's Tommy O'Donnell to earn the international trust of Schmidt.

HEART

"They will be formidable opposition and they are in good form," he acknowledged.

"We're going to have to go out and neutralise them, take out what I consider would be the heart of their team in their back-row."

The assignment to contain Vunipola is the closest Ireland will come to lassoing Mathieu Bastareaud with one clear advantage.

It should be easier to clamp down on a number eight, from a standing start, than to stop the charging Frenchman at full speed. The Irish back row will have to get up and there into the face of Vunipola before he gets going.

Or else, the Irish back-row will be in as much trouble as the Munster one against Saracens in the Champions Cup last month.

"He is one of those players. If you let him into the game and his confidence grows, he seems twice as big, even though that sounds hard, and twice as fast.

"We've seen it before this year in big games.

"He has taken over when he's got a head of steam up.

"Definitely, he would be one of the players you have to neutralise early on," added Murphy.

The basic elements are the same all over the world. When it comes to the breakdown, it is all about who gets there first and how accurate they are once there.

"You just have to beat your opposite number," stated Murphy.

"You can't let them get on top of you or else they're going to have a good day at the office."

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