JORDI MURPHY HAS so often seemed like a player that Joe Schmidt rates highly, a player the Ireland head coach trusts.
But for the Ulster back row, who starts at number eight against Italy tomorrow in Rome, it hasn’t always felt that way.
“There have been times that he hasn’t picked me so he mustn’t like me that much!” joked Murphy yesterday after Schmidt had confirmed his team to face the Italians.
Murphy starts for Ireland in Italy tomorrow. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
Remarkably enough, Murphy’s last Six Nations start for Ireland was back in 2015, when he wore the number eight jersey in a 19-9 victory over England.
So, clearly, selection hasn’t always gone Murphy’s way but it is true that Schmidt has capped him 26 times so far since the Barcelona native’s debut in 2014.
Murphy was part of the 2015 World Cup squad and has enjoyed Test starts against the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies – clearly Schmidt rates him.
“He picks on form and if you produce the goods for him, whether that be in training or you do what he’s asking from you when you are back with your province, he rewards you most of the time,” said Murphy. “I just hope to repay that faith this weekend.”
27-year-old Murphy has certainly been performing at provincial level, shining for Ulster since opting to move north from Leinster last summer.
He says he’s enjoying being tasked with adding leadership and experience for Dan McFarland’s side, with his form for the province deservedly keeping him in the Ireland squad this season.
His opportunity at number eight this weekend is also partly as a result of injuries for others.
CJ Stander is sidelined with a cheek injury, while Jack Conan – who started last time out against Scotland – picked up an abdominal injury in training and Ireland weren’t keen to push the Leinster man through that issue to play.
Murphy is enjoying playing for Ulster. Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO
That leaves Murphy with an ideal chance to make his latest statement to Schmidt.
“There’s no beating around the bush, the World Cup is in whatever it is, nine [seven] months’ time,” said Murphy.
“This is a big opportunity and I plan on taking it with both hands. They don’t come by that often because obviously a lot of the boys in these positions have been playing really well.
“I’m very much game-focused and I know I have to put in a performance this weekend but, yeah, it’s a big opportunity.”
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While Murphy has plenty of experience across the back row, all of his starts for Ulster and Ireland so far this season have been at openside.
He has, however, been training in the three back row positions with Ireland in recent weeks, leaving him confident about slotting into the number eight jersey.
“I suppose just having that control at the base of the scrum can get messy,” said Murphy when asked what the challenges of playing at eight will be.
“It is having the communication with the nine whether it be [Conor] Murray or Coons [John Cooney] this weekend. There are different roles. We have quite a structured game, straight off our first phase, second, third.
“After that, we become unstructured, anyone can play any role then.”
Murphy is well aware that those skills in controlling the ball at the base of the scrum will be tested, with Ireland’s front row ready to reprimand him for any failings.
Murphy at Ireland training this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“Especially if your front row get up a good head of steam and next thing you fumble the ball and let it out!
“You don’t get forgiven for that so it takes a bit of footballing. I’m no footballer but I’m alright at it.”
Murphy will hope to blend well with the pack around him – his introduction being one of four changes up front for Ireland – as he shows his versatility once again.
With this year’s World Cup looming, it could be a timely reminder.
“I’ve always known that was one of the things that I can bring to the table and the last time I went to the World Cup, Joe said one of the reasons was because I offered that versatility, so I’d hope that would be one of the reasons why I could go.
“But I have to perform as well because I’ve had the versatility the last couple of years and then maybe I haven’t been performing for a province or when I come in here, I haven’t been at the pace in training and I’ve been left out.
“All the boys who have been getting games in here over the last while have been top quality players and if you’re on the bench you know you have to a job in all three positions and everyone in the back row is really capable of doing that.”
Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland’s Six Nations meeting with Italy and discuss the week’s biggest stories in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.
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