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Ireland boss Schmidt to let Murray decide on surprise return

UK & international sports | Published:

Ireland ground past Argentina 28-17 in Dublin on Saturday.

Ireland v Argentina – Autumn International – Aviva Stadium

Joe Schmidt will let Conor Murray decide himself whether the British and Irish Lions scrum-half should make a surprise return against New Zealand.

Ireland ground past Argentina 28-17 in Dublin on Saturday, with the luckless Sean O’Brien breaking his right arm just 38 minutes into his first Test in 12 months.

Peerless Munster scrum-half Murray was omitted from Ireland’s 42-man autumn international squad due to ongoing neck problems and has not played since the summer tour to Australia.

England v Ireland – NatWest 6 Nations – Twickenham Stadium
Ireland’s Conor Murray is recovering from injury (Paul Harding/PA)

But Schmidt admitted the 29-year-old Murray could yet face the All Blacks – but only if he feels fully ready himself.

“I’m going to chat to Conor and see how he is,” said Schmidt.

“It will really be Conor’s call, so I can’t answer that until I’ve chatted to him.”

New Zealand boss Steve Hansen has previously joked it could have been an “Irish trick” to leave Murray out of the autumn squad, given the Munster star has already been back in training.

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Hansen has long suspected Murray could be parachuted in to face New Zealand in Dublin on November 17, and the chances of that happening have increased following Ireland’s patchy win over the Pumas.

Ireland v Argentina – Autumn International – Aviva Stadium
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt lost more players to injury against Argentina (Niall Carson/PA)

Asked why Murray was left out of Ireland’s squad in the first instance, Schmidt replied: “Well again it was really to take the pressure off him.

“There was no compulsion to push himself forward or to come out and try to force himself into the frame, unless he’s super comfortable.

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“Because we’ve got three guys doing a good job. But Conor has that incredible capacity to exit us well, give us the free-flow and whip out a pass that makes him a world-class player.

“It’s not the injury it’s really just how ready Conor is; how fully fit he is.

“Because the injury itself has gone really well. So it is tough to come back into a game of that magnitude though.

“It is highly unlikely he will be involved, but as I said, I will talk to him.”

Ireland v Argentina – Autumn International – Aviva Stadium
Ireland’s Sean O’Brien broke his arm during the match (Niall Carson/PA)

Despite O’Brien’s injury blow, Schmidt hopes Kieran Marmion and Robbie Henshaw will be fit to face the All Blacks.

“Sean O’Brien has broken his right arm, so he obviously won’t be available for the rest of the series,” said Ireland boss Schmidt.

“Robbie (Henshaw), his hamstring tightened during the warm-up, we’re going to have to have a look at it and we’ll know more in the next few days.

“We’re hopeful because we didn’t try to push him. We felt it would be a twofold risk, one would he do more damage and two, it’s always difficult if you have to replace someone five minutes into a Test match.

“Kieran Marmion just rolled his ankle a little bit, so we’d be very hopeful he’ll be fine.

Ireland v Argentina – Autumn International – Aviva Stadium
Kieran Marmion scored against Argentina (Niall Carson/PA)

“He might have to elevate and ice that, but we’re relatively confident he’ll be okay.”

Gritty Leinster flanker O’Brien has battled serious shoulder and knee issues in the last year, and now faces possibly at least six more weeks on the sidelines.

Schmidt admitted the 31-year-old O’Brien has been floored by his latest injury.

“Sean’s gutted, I’m gutted for him and the team are too,” said Schmidt.

“I thought he was just getting into his rhythm.”

Ireland v Argentina – Autumn International – Aviva Stadium
Mario Ledesma, right, thinks Ireland could post New Zealand problems (Niall Carson/PA)

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma predicted Ireland could push New Zealand next weekend.

“It’s difficult for the All Blacks to be bad two games in a row,” said Ledesma.

“They’ve already beaten them in the United States cutting an 18-game streak, and they did the same thing against England.

“For Ireland to win maybe New Zealand have to be average and Ireland have to be very good.”

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