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'Great for the group': Andy Farrell explains the decision to start Murray over Cooney in Ireland's Six Nations opener

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Munster's Conor Murray (right) has once again been handed the Ireland number nine jersey ahead of John Cooney (left).

Munster's Conor Murray (right) has once again been handed the Ireland number nine jersey ahead of John Cooney (left).

Munster's Conor Murray (right) has once again been handed the Ireland number nine jersey ahead of John Cooney (left).

Ireland coach Andy Farrell has pointed to Conor Murray's 'calmness' and 'leadership' as explanation for the decision not to start John Cooney in this weekend's Six Nations opener.

With his sterling form for Ulster this season, enough to be nominated for European Player of the Year, Cooney had been widely thought to have claimed Ireland's number nine jersey for Scotland's visit to Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 4.45pm).

However, new coach Farrell has stuck with the tried and tested half-back pairing, Murray once again joining captain Johnny Sexton.

"It's unbelievably tough because (Luke) McGrath misses out (on the match-day squad) and he's been playing really well," said Farrell.

"We've had three very competitive training sessions and Luke's been right up there. Somebody's got to miss out.

"Conor's been great, in and around the group and in training. We've put them under pressure over here in Portugal and his calmness has been great for the group. He's in good form as well. He's raring to go.

"(He is) in very determined mood in a leadership role. He's very experienced and in great form. He's a good player.

"I understand chat around John because so is he. Everyone knows what type of form John's in. He has had a few protocols this week as far as his HIA is concerned but he's got a couple of sessions under his belt and he's ready to go.

"They're in a great place, all three of them. We'd be happy with all of them being in the squad but somebody's got to miss out.

"Competition for places is our friend. Some people get scared of it, but we'll use it to enhance our competitive edge."

Perhaps chief among Farrell's reasons for plumping for experience at nine is the youth selection at number eight, Leinster's Caelan Doris handed his first cap aged 21.

"We believe that any youngster coming on to the scene, the key point at international level is can they be themselves. Take the field, play their game," he said.

"We believe that Caelan can do that. I like the fact he’s just himself, not fazed by coming into an international scene.

"The training is physical, but you can see his attributes all over that. Doesn’t like to come second best."

Will Addison had also been in contention for a starting spot although ended up missing out on a squad place altogether as Jordan Larmour was passed fit to start at full-back and Robbie Henshaw was named as a replacement.

Farrell explained that Addison had been 'up and down' with a calf injury sustained against Clermont, although the problem hadn't prevented the 27-year-old subsequently playing for Ulster against Bath.

Farrell also said that Larmour had been 'on fire' and 'back to his electric best' during the training camp in Portugal.

The new chief also said he wants to build a team that the Irish public love watching after naming his first XV since taking over from Joe Schmidt.

"I want to see the good old traditions of what all champion Irish teams have been about, a team the Irish public love watching," he said.

"A dominant, aggressive forward pack. Hard to handle, I’ve been on the other side of that. A backline that contributes to that, but also takes advantage of what they do.

"Those are the essentials, the little bits will take time and we’ll see how they progress."

And Farrell praised the way Peter O'Mahony responded to the decision to leave him out of the starting XV.

"Pete typifies our group, he's been sensational since I gave him the news yesterday. He’s been brought up the right way, he was right over to help the other guys at the computers and he was sensational in training," he said.

Farrell revealed that Keith Earls has been unable to train before the team was named.

Belfast Telegraph