Schmidt says Murray unlikely to face All Blacks as O’Brien’s woes go on
Ireland flanker suffers broken arm on return from injury against Argentina
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, when pressed following this 28-17 victory over Argentina, stated that Conor Murray’s return to face New Zealand next Saturday is “highly unlikely”.
But not out of the question. The decision, ultimately, will be made by the Munster and Lions scrumhalf.
“I’m going to chat to Conor and see how he is,” said Schmidt. “It is really going to be Conor’s call. There is no compulsion on him to push himself into the frame.
“It is highly unlikely he will be involved.”
Kieran Marion’s rolled ankle make yet factor into the selection.
Seán O’Brien requires surgery after breaking his right arm and Robbie Henshaw, who hurt his hamstring in the warm-up, only to be impressively replaced at centre by Will Addison on home debut, has not been ruled out of the “one v two” showdown with the world champions.
“Seán’s broken his right arm,” said Schmidt. “He’ll need surgery on that so he obviously won’t be available for the rest of the Guinness Series.
“He’s gutted, I’m gutted for him and the team are too. He was just getting into his rhythm. Talking to him after the game he was talking about his rehab. He has a big target [the World Cup] that he wants to get to in a year’s time. I said it on Thursday he is a stubborn man.
“I’d still give him a chance of getting back towards the end of the year and into the Six Nations.”
On Henshaw, Schmidt continued: “Robbie, I’d be hopeful he’ll be okay because we didn’t push him but we have to just wait and see. We didn’t want to do more damage and you don’t want to be substituting someone five minutes into a Test match.”
Schmidt said Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose “will train fully on Monday so that put them into the mix for sure”.
Kearney is almost certain to return at fullback after the brilliant young talent that is Jordan Larmour struggled with the nuts and bolts of the position against Argentina.
Devin Toner should be recalled to fix Irish lineout woes, especially after New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick destroyed the English set piece.
So, all told, there are wildly contrasting feelings in the Irish camp as the dream duo fades from the collective consciousness. Maybe Dan Leavy and O’Brien are never supposed to cross the generational divide, maybe one openside master must pass into shadow before his heir can attain full maturity.
We saw during last season’s Six Nations, when Leavy finally had seven on his back, how he soared to the heights those prodigious teenage years promised but this only occurred when Josh van der Flier, Schmidt’s favourite work horse, limped out of the Paris game.
Same happened to O’Brien here. On 38 minutes the veteran’s nicely timed return – for the umpteenth time from injury – was cut short when his arm got unluckily pinched in contact with the monstrous Tomás Lavanini.
The 31-year-old’s face told the story. Agony forced the medics to sling the fracture into his jersey.
The great Seánie O’Brien walked away. How many times can the Tullow Tank keep coming back from such horrid wounds?
“Like I said, Seánie is a very stubborn man,” said Schmidt.
A ravenous Leavy burst any sorrow in the stadium, arriving to dominate the breakdown with two of the cleanest turnovers imaginable and a wealth of positive contributions alongside the superb James Ryan and Peter O’Mahony.
“Not long after Dan came on he gave up a bit of an unlucky penalty,” said Schmidt, who is always a little harder on the rawest talent at his disposal. “His competitiveness, how combatative he is, I thought he did a really good job. He carried down the left a few times, through the middle a few times, defensively he was strong, got some pressure on the ball. That’s what you want from a seven.”
Schmidt, as ever, mentioned Van der Flier in the same breath.
“It’s an uncomfortable decision that has to be made.”
Schmidt also saw Marmion, Ireland’s opening try scorer, limp off in the second half.
“Kieran rolled his ankle. I thought he did very well for us. The next 24, 48 hours ill give us a better insight into when he can fully train”
Marmion’s replacement Luke McGrath scored Ireland’s third try, and is in line to start against the All Blacks if Marmion and Murray are both missing through injury.
What a Test follows.
“It looked to me that England went on Damian McKenzie [aerially] and got a lot of ball back. When you say that, any team can be exposed.”
That sentence indicates Steve Hansen will start Ben Smith at fullback, with McKenzie removed, unless Schmidt is double bluffing. Either way, next weekend presents the greatest coaching challenge for the 53-year-old Kiwi (who does hold Irish citizenship).
Schmidt’s Ireland has had three cuts off the All Blacks – a deflating Ryan Crotty try silenced the Aviva stadium in 2013, the historic 2016 breakthrough in Chicago and the filthiest match most people present could remember two weeks later in Dublin. It’s also the team so many expect Schmidt to return home and take over in 2020.
“It’s so little to do with me,” he humbly stated. “There was the one in 2013, I am still bleeding from that. It hurts when that happens and while Chicago was a great band aid, in fact it was a full bandage – it was great. Two weeks later we were very, very much in the game and it was very tough, very very tough. As physical as it was tonight it was a step up last time they were in town.
“The challenge for our guys is to step up. I’m confident that they can but at the same time I’m well aware of the challenges the All Blacks present.”
Roll up, roll up.