Paddy Jackson and Stuart McCloskey tipped to shine at Six Nations
Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray thinks Ulster's Paddy Jackson is primed to make a real impact on the Six Nations.
Jonny Sexton remains Joe Schmidt's first-choice fly-half, and Ireland management have said the Leinsterman is fully fit despite his early substitution against Wasps last week, but Murray has every faith in the in-form Jackson.
"I think Paddy's a great player," said Murray at Ireland's open training session at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
"I played with him a good few times in our early days with Ireland.
"He had a start here against France, he had a start here against Samoa and his form has been brilliant this year.
"I was on the same training team as him here and he's really stepped up his knowledge.
"He's really vocal and he's all there - as much as Johnny is - so like any position in our squad there's huge competition.
"Because it's out-half, it is under the spotlight more, but if Paddy gets his chance - whether it's starting or off the bench, you don't know - he's ready. He's in great form."
While Jackson's has been a familiar face around Carton House since making his Test debut three years ago, his Ulster team-mate Stuart McCloskey is new to the environment and looking to earn his first Ireland cap over the next two months.
The Bangor native has been in eye-catching form this season, featuring in all of Ulster's games until last week's win over Oyonnax.
For Murray, the bulldozing centre has made an instant impression in the national set-up.
"He's huge," said the 2013 British and Irish Lion.
"I've seen him in the gym and he's just a hugely powerful man."
McCloskey is not merely brawn, however, with Murray pleased to see that the 23-year-old has picked up new systems without any struggle.
"What's impressed us is his rugby brain," said the 44-times capped Munsterman, who inked a new three-year contract this week.
"He seems to have a good understanding. He's come in and it's a hard squad to come into I'd imagine; there's so many calls and different systems that you're probably not used to with your provinces.
"He's really picked up on it really quickly, he's soaking up information as much as he can and he's really working hard.
"Like Paddy, Stuart is also in great form and he's an exciting talent."
Ahead of the championship opener against Wales next weekend, Murray is pleased to have his own future sorted.
"You say you don't think about it but it's a weight off the shoulders," he said.
"You can kind of focus on rugby now.
"It would have been a little bit inconvenient if it was hanging over your head and in your mind during the Six Nations."