Injury to Munster scrum-half Conor Murray is a real game-changer and alters the whole dynamic of Ireland’s tactics when they come up against Grand Slam-chasing England on Saturday. The British and Irish Lion is excellent and absolutely vital to Joe Schmidt’s side.
Murray has failed to recover from the shoulder problem incurred during his side’s 22-9 reverse against Wales at the Principality Stadium last week and is set to be replaced by Connacht’s Kieran Marmion.
That axis of No8 Jamie Heaslip, Murray and fly-half Johnny Sexton, with the 27-year-old sitting in the middle, is so crucial for the Irish and such a strength. Murray dictates the pace of the scrum and helps to liberate Sexton.
With him and indeed full-back Rob Kearney – an experienced duo – both missing, that is a big hole in Ireland’s back line and may well prove terminal to their chances, especially with England baying for victory.
Sexton is pivotal to Ireland’s game-management. England’s defence is one of their key assets and they are going to be super-aggressive in the Irish faces. When Sexton is on-song, his kicking could nullify that to a large extent.
He can put the ball in the right spots and heap a huge amount of pressure on the receiver, killing an opponent’s defensive momentum – that’s why England have picked Anthony Watson over Jack Nowell because they know the aerial battle is coming.
But it becomes intriguing without Murray there alongside the Leinster No10. Murray’s own game-management would alleviate some of the pressure on Sexton’s shoulders, but now he needs to do it all on his own.
Murray’s absence will be a huge confidence-booster for England in what, I believe, is the biggest match between the two nations this century. Dublin is going to be red-hot with a fierce, anti-English atmosphere.
There are also straight Lions shootouts as well; Sexton versus Owen Farrell – whose game-management is better? Rory Best v Dylan Hartley, Heaslip v Billy Vunipola and Sean O’Brien v James Haskell. It’s going to be a cracking contest.
Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11