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Wednesday 22 May 2019

Scrum-half dilemma for Ireland's Schmidt

BELOW PAR: Conor Murray. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
BELOW PAR: Conor Murray. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It would come as no surprise to see the television cameras pan across to a pensive Joe Schmidt at The Sportsground in the PRO14 League on Saturday evening (KO5.30, TG4).

The Ireland coach has a decision to make at scrum-half.

Conor Murray has been operating below his high standards in the opening rounds of the Six Nations against England and Scotland.

Maybe, Schmidt wants his first choice half-back to play through the slump.

There's no easier place in the championship to recover confidence or form than Italy.

Presumably, Schmidt had pre-planned for Ireland to be two-wins-up and looking to build depth at this stage.

However, Kieran Marmion, who returned to Connacht training yesterday, had to have an ankle operation in November.

Since then, Luke McGrath has been banjaxed by a knee injury and Ulster's John Cooney has been given a taste of the big time. The plan all along was for Marmion to return around this time

Connacht coach Andy Friend has already confirmed his scrum-half will play against The Cheetahs in Galway .

Contention

The challenge for Marmion is to put his best foot forward to come into contention for Rome.

The 27-year-old has gradually earned the trust of Schmidt for his battling qualities and commitment to the cause.

He will have to get into rhythm straight away and show he is up to speed for his province.

Or else, Ulster's Cooney will be set to continue in Murray's slipstream or even be given his first Six Nations start for Ireland against Conor O'Shea's side on Sunday week.

Ideally, Schmidt would want to use Italy as an opportunity. Will it be Murray, Cooney or Marmion?

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