Six Nations: Geordan Murphy lays down the law for Ireland
None of today’s 15 Irish starters or seven replacements knows the England players better than Geordan Murphy.
In his capacity as Leicester Tigers captain his club-level charges include English half-backs Ben Youngs and Toby Flood plus two forwards who are members of Martin Johnson’s team today, prop Dan Cole and lock Louis Deacon.
As their skipper Murphy knows each of that quartet well. Weekly confrontations against the England players from the other Premiership clubs mean he has a fair idea of their ability, too.
Being so well versed as to who can do what, Murphy’s presence on the pitch would be a distinct advantage this evening. Unfortunately the 69 times-capped full-back will not be one of Ireland’s on-field representatives; he is still dependent on crutches to get himself about in the wake of surgery to rectify an ankle injury sustained whilst playing for Leicester against Northampton in early January.
“I’ve got a plate and two pins in there and I don’t get those out until the first week in April,” he reveals. “We’ll see what happens then.”
His analysis of today’s opponents is that the biggest threat they pose is in the pack.
“They’re really quite powerful. Their front row was a weakness but they seem to have got some strength there now and their back five are very dynamic. They’ve got some really good ball-carriers.
“Obviously I know the half-backs, Youngs and Flood, particularly well. They’re two very exciting footballers. Beyond them they have strong-running centres and a very fast, elusive back three so it’s a pretty good blend.
“The way they play the game really suits their strengths. They try and get the ball to their fast runners, though in saying that that strength could also be a weakness because if Ireland defend well and stop them getting the ball to their wide men that could make things a lot more difficult for England.
“I don’t think their midfield is exceptionally gifted in terms of throwing the ball about; their strength is in their up-and-down rugby. They’re strong tacklers and strong carriers, but if we can stop them getting the ball to their wingers we’ll be doing ourselves a big favour,” he explains.
But whilst he views the English midfield as being somewhat limited, his admiration of the Leicester half-back pairing is evident.
“I think Youngs is a very special footballer. It’s easy to forget how young he is; I think he’s just turned 21 so he has a big career ahead of him.
“With the ball in hand he’s a very exciting player. He has worked hard on his pass and it has improved. But I think he has a way to go as well — he has bags of potential but he’s not the finished article just yet.
“I think Ireland will have to put him under pressure on his pass and on his box-kicks, focus on defending him as tightly as possible,” Murphy suggests.
He is a big fan of Flood, too.
“Really good footballer and again a young guy — 24 — who has come on very well.
“Anyone who can keep Jonny Wilkinson out of the side clearly is a very talented player.
“He’s kicking really well at the moment, running the game well. His passing game is very skilful, too, and he seems to pick the right options most times.
“As with Youngs I think Ireland
have to put him under pressure. That is key.”
Having had time to study Ireland during his enforced absence he knows that they have not been putting the ball down the line as well or as often as they have done in the past.
“But you have to be fair in assessing that,” he reasons. “At the start of the Six Nations Ireland were without six or seven back three players because of injuries.
“We started with Fergus McFadden, who did a fantastic job on the wing. But he’s a centre.
“Tommy (Bowe) is back fit again, but he was missing for the first couple of games. And in the Six Nations it’s important that you fall into a certain style of play as quickly as possible. Because you have such a limited time together it’s difficult to get that — and continuity — established.”
So, armed with his knowledge of the opposition, how would he go about plotting England’s overthrow this evening?
“I’m not sure we’ll change our style of play a whole lot. I think Ireland will look to play territory and put England under pressure. That’s the way to go about it, I think – similar to what the Scots did against them last weekend.”
IRELAND: K Earls (Munster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Court (Ulster), L Cullen (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), P Stringer (Munster), R O'Gara (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster).
England: B Foden (Northampton Saints); C Ashton (Northampton Saints), M Banahan (Bath Rugby), S Hape (Bath Rugby), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); T Flood (Leicester Tigers), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Hartley (Northampton Saints), D Cole (Leicester Tigers), L Deacon (Leicester Tigers), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Wood (Northampton Saints), J Haskell (Stade Francais), N Easter (Harlequins, capt).
Replacements: S Thompson (Leeds Carnegie), P Doran-Jones (Gloucester), S Shaw (London Wasps), T Croft (Leicester Tigers), D Care (Harlequins), J Wilkinson (Toulon), D Strettle (Saracens).