Braveheart | 

Conor Murray answers Ireland’s call after returning to camp following his father’s road crash

The Munster No 9 returned home to Limerick to be with his family in the aftermath of his father Gerry suffering serious injuries when his bicycle collided with a truck on Tuesday

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE


Having endured a turbulent week, Conor Murray will take his place in the Ireland team to face France in today’s crunch Six Nations clash at a sold-out Aviva Stadium (2.15).

The Munster No 9 returned home to Limerick to be with his family in the aftermath of his father Gerry suffering serious injuries when his bicycle collided with a truck on Tuesday, but Murray then rejoined the Ireland squad, underlining his commitment to the cause.

The Ireland coaches afforded Murray as much time as he needed to make a decision on whether or not to play today, but the situation never reached a point where the scrum-half sought extra time off.

Murray’s inclusion in the team comes as a huge boost to Ireland boss Andy Farrell, who is already without key players Jamison Gibson-Park, Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan and Robbie Henshaw for what is potentially a defining Six Nations game against the Grand Slam champions.

Despite the difficult events of recent days, Murray has shown impressive character, and is said to be relishing the French challenge and received great support from his team-mates at yesterday’s Captain’s Run.

For the first time in the tournament’s history, the top two ranked teams in the world will meet in a titanic battle.

As Ireland aim to consolidate their place at the top by notching what would be a record 13th consecutive home win, they will have to end France’s record 14-game winning streak.

“We can be as physical as anyone,” Ireland scrum coach John Fogarty said.

“I think it’s important that we are nice and smart, we’re making good decisions as much as being physical.

“They have beaten us the last three times, so we want to win. There is no grudge. We respect the French in how they play the game. They do build pressure. It is a big game. We feel like we have taken the learnings from wins and losses, so we are ready to play.”

Fogarty has backed Finlay Bealham to step up in what is the biggest game of his career.

Fresh after impressing during his first Six Nations start during last weekend’s bonus-point win in Cardiff, Bealham faces a much tougher test against a powerful French scrum at the Aviva Stadium.

The Ireland front-row has been decimated by injury, with Dan Sheehan (hamstring) joining Tadhg Furlong (calf) and Cian Healy (hamstring) on the absentee list, but Fogarty is confident that the squad depth is sufficient enough to be able to handle such key losses.

Bealham will go up against Cyril Baille, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading looseheads, but the Connacht prop is well set for the difficult test, according to Fogarty.

“He’s improved so much in so many different ways,” he said of Bealham (31).

“He punches on to every ball now. He makes an impact in what he’s doing defensively and in attack.

“I think Andy (Farrell) and Paul (O’Connell) have been really, really good for him in helping him understand what he needs to do around the field.

“At scrum time, he’s tricky. He gets to an unbelievably good height. He’s a bit of a technician at scrum time. He’s someone that is very, very competitive.

“He’s got good discipline in what he does at scrum time and gets into an uncomfortable height for looseheads, so that’s going to be an interesting part of his game. Him and Cyril Baille will be a nice battle.

“Finlay is ready. He had a great day last week. I thought he did very well at scrum time and we are very excited to see him.”

Bealham will pack down alongside Ulster hooker Rob Herring, who gets the nod in light of Sheehan’s ill-timed hamstring injury, but that significant loss is at least offset by Rónan Kelleher recovering from his own hamstring issue to take his place on the bench.

“His set-piece is excellent,” Fogarty said of Herring (32).

“He is very calm. He has a nice way of making sure that the guys left and right of him are clear in what they are doing. He has learned from (Rory) Bestie. He has great feel in a scrum and he gets us out of the blocks so on set he punches in real nice.

“It is important to get our chest or our hips forward against a big, heavy pack. He delivers that really well. He adds a lot of value because of his experience so we are very lucky to have someone like Rob, He has waited to get a start like this and he has had a good week now and he will be ready to go.”

Kelleher (25) hasn’t featured for Ireland since last year’s Six Nations defeat in Paris, when he picked up a shoulder injury that began a nightmare spell out for the Leinster man.

Against a physical French pack, Kelleher’s impact will be important when called upon.

“You lose Dan and you think he has been a big player for us, so is Rónan, and he has had a bit of a journey, hasn’t he, to come back,” Fogarty added.

“He is primed, he is ready to go, he is dying to get on the field, so it’s good to have him. He has size, a big chest, strong at scrum time, so it’s important he is back, for sure.”

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