Hansen suggests Murray could yet face the All Blacks
‘Is Conor really going to be out or is it an Irish trick? Or is it the truth?’
Conor Murray could yet face New Zealand on November 17th with both All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen and Ronan O’Gara suggesting that the Ireland scrumhalf could make an unexpected return from his neck injury.
Murray is expected to join the Ireland camp in Carton House this week but he will not travel to Chicago with the 26-man squad that departs this morning ahead of Saturday’s match against Italy at Soldier Field.
“Well, I’m not sure about that, I don’t know,” said Hansen when asked about Murray’s likely absence following New Zealand’s 37-20 victory over Australia in Yokohama, the venue for next year’s World Cup final.
“Is Conor really going to be out or is it an Irish trick? Or is it the truth?
“Look, Conor’s a great player and it’s really disappointing for both Ireland and us that he’s not playing. When you play quality teams you want all your players to be there. They’ll miss him but what a wonderful opportunity for somebody else to step up.”
Murray is well known to New Zealand due to outstanding try scoring performances in two victories over the All Blacks; Chicago in November 2016 and the second Lions test in 2017.
The 29-year-old is slated to feature for Munster away to Zebre on November 25th but Murray did state last week that this could be accelerated to include game time during the November international window.
“Will Conor Murray be ready to face New Zealand on November 17?” wrote O’Gara in The Irish Examiner last week. “Contrary to what he intimated this week, my gut instinct is that he will play. He’s been going pretty much full on in training and next week he will ramp that up further. If he’s ready, he will look to start.”
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt’s mini-US-touring-party will be revealed today. Considering Kieran Marmion’s 50 minutes for Connacht in defeat to the Ospreys on Friday night, John Cooney and Luke McGrath appear to be the scrumhalves for Chicago.
Murray’s presence in Carton House gives him the opportunity to turn the assumptions of Hansen and O’Gara into reality. “Hopefully in November some time,” said Murray, when asked last week about his comeback. “We’ve a game in our head, but that could change or be brought forward or it could be pushed out a little bit more . . . Ideally, I’d love to play a game or two, come off the bench and then play Europe and kick-start the season then.”
Murray’s last game was against Australia in June.
“Look, I’m training pretty much fully with the squad for the last two weeks, doing controlled contact after training and taking a few bangs that I probably wasn’t expecting in training, which was great, and which I need. I’m getting there. I’m very, very close. Weeks away maybe.”
There are fresh concerns over Ireland veterans, Rob Kearney and Peter O’Mahony, as both appeared to sustain shoulder injuries playing for Leinster and Munster on Saturday. Neither were expected to face Italy, but both would have been due to start against Argentina on November 10th.
“He came into the changing room with a bit of pain,” said Munster coach Johann van Graan of O’Mahony. “He’s had a big workload on him. All credit to him he’s in the form of his life and he’s brilliant fitness to come through these games. I don’t think it’s serious.”
The Munster flanker required treatment after his turnover secured the penalty that led to Rory Scannell kicking the winning goal. Uncapped centre Sam Arnold was also forced off with concussion during the dramatic 25-24 victory at Thomond Park.
Speaking about a late tackle on O’Mahony by Glasgow Warriors backrow Adam Ashe, van Graan added: “We’ll speak to the referee manager about that one. It was off the ball after he made the pass. It was a big off the ball hit on him there. He actually got up and made the final tackle there in the corner.”
Of the 42-man panel Schmidt named last week, 14 players - Andrew Conway, Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Garry Ringrose, Joey Carbery, Johnny Sexton, Cooney, McGrath, Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Beirne, Devin Toner, Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier - played no rugby over the weekend.
All Blacks outhalf Beauden Barrett scored 17 points as New Zealand completed a Bledisloe Cup clean sweep with a 37-20 win over Australia at the venue for the 2019 World Cup final on Saturday.
Flanker Liam Squire and captain Kieran Read crossed before the break to put the All Blacks in a commanding position and the world champions piled on the points in the closing stages when Australia were a man down.
Australia replacement hooker Tolu Latu was sinbinned for striking his New Zealand counterpart Codie Taylor on 66 minutes and tries from Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane completed an emphatic victory.
“It was a good start [to the tour],” said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, whose side face Japan next week before heading to Europe.
“Australia play different to what we are going to be playing in the next couple of weeks but they are a formidable opponent and on their day can play very well. So it was important we start the tour with a good performance and we did that tonight.”
New Zealand had won the first two Tests between the trans-Tasman Sea rivals in the Rugby Championship in August to be assured of retaining the Bledisloe Cup for the 16th straight year.
The Wallabies, with plenty to prove after a poor season, exploded out of the blocks in front of 46,143 fans in Yokohama and almost scored in the second minute only for fullback Dane Haylett-Petty’s effort to be ruled out by the TMO.
After that, New Zealand took control, dominating possession and territory and opening the scoring on 11 minutes when Squire broke through Kurtley Beale’s tackle.
Plagued by errors and penalties – Australia conceded 11 to New Zealand’s five – the Wallabies allowed their opponents too much turnover ball and, as usual, the All Blacks punished them.
After penalties apiece for Beale and Barrett, number eight Read peeled off the back of a scrum in the 36th minute and ran through Ned Hanigan’s tackle to extend New Zealand’s lead to 17-3.
The Wallabies hit back just before half-time, though, with winger Sefa Naivalu barrelling clean through Barrett to score in the corner.
Michael Cheika’s team reducved the gap to 17-13 at the start of the secomnd half. before Barrett took control of the contest, slotting his second penalty before linking up with Ioane to score the try of the match on the hour mark.
Already up against it, Australia’s hopes of getting back into the contest suffered a fatal blow when Latu was sin binned for a retaliatory swipe at Taylor.
Further tries from Ben Smith and Ioane, his 11th of the year and 22nd in 21 Tests, either side of Israel Folau’s consolation score for the Australians wrapped up another comprehensive win for Hansen’s men.
“Devastated? That’s a big word,” Wallabies coach Cheika, said afterwards. “I care a lot. I care about my team, the players and about rugby in Australia.
“One thing that comes with care is fight and whatever is necessary [to beat New Zealand] we will make sure we get it done before we meet them again.”
Conor Murray said last week that his return to action could be accelerated.
Beauden Barrett scored 17 points against New Zealand in Yokohama