Sunday 24 February 2019

Law laid down by Murphy

Irish World Cup selection battle has started in Oz

DELIGHT: Jordi Murphy celebrates at the final whistle of the second Test against Australia in Melbourne. Photo: SPORTSFILE
DELIGHT: Jordi Murphy celebrates at the final whistle of the second Test against Australia in Melbourne. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Could the man leaving Leinster be Joe Schmidt's first-choice openside in Australia, ahead of the man who has taken over at Leinster?

"Dan (Leavy) got a whack right on the sternum, which is very uncomfortable, but he could potentially have played on. I thought Jordi Murphy went on and did a really good job in his place."

These were the post-match comments made by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt about the decision to replace Leavy with Murphy at half-time in the second Test in Melbourne.

Why then wouldn't Schmidt send Leavy out for the second-half to see how he went? There was always the option to catapult Murphy into the argument on the hour mark.

Perhaps Schmidt thought he could not take a risk on Leavy's diminished capacity. Perhaps he was saving Leavy for the third and definitive Test, even though the second was far from won.

There are Irish players that can be crudely termed 'Schmidt players'. Rob Kearney is one; CJ Stander and Murphy are others.

There is still some way to go down the road for Schmidt to rank Leavy up there with a fit Sean O'Brien.

Then again, the Tullow Tank will have to convince Leo Cullen and Schmidt that he can stay fit long enough to last in Japan.

The admirable Josh van der Flier is also on his way back from a serious injury. His attention to detail, allied to his work ethic, is attractive to Schmidt.

In that regard, this is the tour on which Leavy and Murphy can cement their places for next year.

Murphy and Van der Flier share a facility for making minimum errors. However, they do not have the big play punch of Leavy and the Leinster seven is well worth the perseverance for his game-breaking impact.


Schmidt has already been counting down the games from here to the Rugby World Cup.

He noted the ten matches left on the game calendar and placing his trust in Leavy for the third Test will be a sign of faith.

He was injured for the opener and removed at half-time for the second. Surely he will have to start the third.

Otherwise, Murphy will go into pre-season with Ulster believing the move up North can give him the regular game time to make him a frontrunner for Ireland.

"Australia is an incredible country. I've never been here before. It has definitely surpassed any expectations," said Murphy.

"Look, obviously, the first week was very disappointing. We took a lot of learnings.

"Now we're in a good position, with the series tied, to bring it home."

When they return home, will it be Murphy or Leavy who has made the best impression on Schmidt?

There will be a clue to the puzzle in Thursday's team selection.

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