HE HAS BEEN paired with many out-halves in his short career, but Conor Murray has seen enough of Ronan O’Gara to believe he can steer Ireland to a win over Scotland this Sunday.
A hamstring injury to Jonathan Sexton in the Six Nations defeat to England pushed O’Gara back into Ireland’s pivotal position.
This week, with only uncapped alternatives for the number 10 jersey, head coach Declan Kidney is set to call on the 35-year-old again.
“I played most of my rugby with ROG and we’re quite comfortable with each other.” says Murray, O’Gara’s provincial and half-back partner, before pointing to his experience of playing with both Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson as one reason the number 10 shirt is still up for grabs.
Having worked in close quarters with O’Gara for the entirety of his professional life Murray is confident that, despite a shaky display against Llanelli Scarlets on Saturday, the veteran’s mental toughness will make him an asset for Ireland.
“He’s so mentally strong that he’s laughing and joking about the kicks this morning – that’s the way he approaches things. He’s done it for years; having ups and downs and coming back the next week.
“I (see) no problem. If he starts, he’ll be absolutely fine. No issues.”
Backs coach Les Kiss added that he and Kidney are fortunate to have options after losing such a central tenet of their game-plan in Sexton:
“We’re pretty lucky. You’ve got ROG who has proven his experience. Ian Madigan, who is in a good vein of from and doing some nice things. Paddy Jackson has really come on as a 10 and driven a really strong Ulster team this year, so we’ve got some good options.”
A spate of injuries reaching into double figures will limit this coaching ticket’s will to make any additional selection surprises. With Gordon D’Arcy ruled out, Declan Kidney will be keen to surround the incoming ’12′ with experience.
“Across the pitch you just have to make sure that the right people have been exposed to enough parts of what you’ve been working on and that they can carry the plan forward for you.” Kiss says.
“You’re trying to work out what’s the best combination based on all those (technical and tactical) decisions we have to make. And that decision doesn’t just stop with the 10: we’ve got a 12 to think about, the bench to think about – how we can manipulate that. We’ve got a front row to think about… so we’ve just to work out what the best mix is and go forward from that.”
No matter who starts the game at fly-half, however, Kiss maintains that Ireland will look to play the same expansive game-plan as they do with Sexton at the helm.
“Certain parts will adapt based on each player, but there is an underlying philosophy or principal that we want to stay on the ambitious side, keep being positive about our play as much as possible.
“The way we want to play the game and the way we want to work our shape and manipulate the defence demands that we have a very agile and mobile way we think about the game. We’re trying to hone that all the time, so any new player that comes in, we don’t want to shift away from that too much.
“We’ll adapt accordingly, but I don’t envisage any major change in how we want to play the game.”