HAVING MADE A home for himself on the right wing last season, Niall Morris has been shifted back to fullback at Leicester Tigers.
The switch, which may have something got to do with Geordan Murphy’s move into the Tigers coaching staff, is showing early season signs of being a success. The Dubliner, now in his third year at the reigning Aviva Premiership champions, is most content with the fact that he has started four games on the spin.
Murphy, who retired at the end of last season, has spoken of the qualities he sees in his fellow Irishman. He sees Morris as a fullback but experienced enough plate shifts in the Irish backine to know how versatility can be of great benefit.
On Tuesday, Morris was called into the Irish senior squad by Joe Schmidt. The head coach only selected two players that are currently operating abroad. The other was Jonny Sexton [Racing Metro]. With training camps falling outside of the international Test window, Schmidt must have employed his Kiwi charm to secure Morris a 48-hour hall pass to Ireland.
The call-up comes on the back of a personally productive summer for Morris with Emerging Ireland at the Tbilisi Cup. The 25-year-old played 80 minutes in three of the Irish side’s matches and touched down twice against Uruguay.
Morris told TheScore.ie: “I was delighted to get the recognition from home and travelled to Georgia with a great group of guys. The goal now is to make that step-up to the senior squad but, to do that, I have to be in the Leicester team and playing well.”
Starting in the 15 jersey at Welford Road, Morris excelled against Worcester Warriors in the league opener and set up Adam Thompstone for his side’s opening try of the season. Defeat followed in their next league outing, against Peter Stringer’s Bath, but Tigers showed their fight in coming back from 21-3 down to almost snatch the points.
“Stringer is still a quality player,” said Morris, “and moves his pack around really well. When we were sitting down to prepare for the game last week, we identified him as one of Bath’s key players.”
Morris sets a grubber kick on its way against Toulon in the Heineken Cup quarter final last season. INPHO/James Crombie
Newcastle Falcons are next on Morris’ agenda before he flies back to Dublin and links up with the 42-man Ireland squad at Carton House, Maynooth. Tigers can call on Lions forwards such as Dan Cole, Tom Youngs and Geoff Parling but scrumhalf Ben Youngs and centre Manu Tuilagi may not return until 29 September. Morris said:
The lads returned from the Lions tour full of confidence. Geoff started two Tests over there and proved what an outstanding player, and good leader, he is. He had a big task to step in for Paul O’Connell when he was injured and did a great job. Tom did excellently too. He made his England debut last November and now he’s a Lion with a series win to his name.”
Though their positions will never be mixed up, Morris takes heart from Youngs rise to international acclaim. Two days may not be a huge amount of time to fully stake his claims for the November Series. However, having Murphy, and former Irish outhalf Paul Burke, as his mentors at Leicester gives him an insight into what it takes to make it as an Premiership-based player with Ireland.
“Geordan played for 16 years with Leicester and was an unbelievably talented player,” said Morris. “He played 70-odd times for Ireland and did it while he was a Tiger. He is invaluable to have around for advice.”
Schmidt’s first match as Ireland head coach will be Samoa at Lansdowne Road. If Morris can keep up his impressive outings with Tigers, and make a Heineken Cup impact in October, it might be his first Ireland game too.