Wednesday 20 March 2019

Murphy playing for his Ireland place

Jordi Murphy’s Ireland spot is not assured
Jordi Murphy’s Ireland spot is not assured

While Scotland, Wales and England have been out of the traps quickly with their squads for November, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has taken a wait-and-see approach.

After all, there are bound to be one or two places available for someone to push through with an outstanding performance in week two of Europe.

Former Leinster flanker Jordi Murphy might be one of those right at the cut-off point as Ulster make their way to Racing 92 for what is one of the most difficult possible assignments in the Champions Cup.

The French club has won their last five at home and accumulated an average of 29 points-per-game in the process.

This comes as no surprise given the list of high-end operators up front, like Leone Nakarawa and Donnacha Ryan and in behind, like Finn Russell and Simon Zebo.

The foundations of their game are rock solid as evidenced by the fact they were one of just two clubs, along with Lyon, to have a 100 per cent return from their scrum and lineout last week.

In comparison to Racing's home record, Ulster have lost out in six of their last seven away from Kingspan.

This is the exact environment in which the real leaders will stand up to be counted.

Certainly, Ireland captain Rory Best needs to show an upward trajectory in form for what is likely to be his third appearance of the season.

Second row Iain Henderson must have noted the flying form of James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne and Devin Toner.

Still, the Ulsterman does have unique explosiveness, at least in the Irish context, that sets him apart.

The battle between Henderson ad Ryan in the engine room will be a point of huge interest for those out there who have still not given up on Schmidt recalling Ryan and/or Zebo for the Rugby World Cup, if not the Six Nations.

The aggression with which Jacob Stockdale approached the high ball against Leicester Tigers was an extra dimension to his game.

Apparently, the Player of the Six Nations in 2018 has also been working hard to improve his decision-making in defence.

However, Murphy stands out as the one man, who could do with a big impact in Paris.

He has played twice for Ulster at a time when Peter O'Mahony, Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier have been firing.

So far, Dan Leavy has not had the run of form to be guaranteed a slot and the same goes fro Sean O'Brien.

CJ Stander has been doing what the number eight always does and Jack Conan is getting better with each game.

You could surmise, all things being equal, Murphy's decision to leave Leinster for Ulster might just swing it his way as long as he delivers tomorrow.

Champions Cup: Racing 92 v Ulster, Live BT Sport 3 (KO 5.30)

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