Ireland head coach Andy Farrell believes Conor Murray secretly craves competition for the scrum-half position after Jamison Gibson-Park was given the nod to face Wales.
Murray has been the long-standing first choice for his country’s number nine jersey, including starting each of the five Guinness Six Nations fixtures following Farrell’s appointment.
New Zealand-born Gibson-Park will have an opportunity to stake his claim for that role on Friday when he makes his first Test start in the opening match of the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup.
Farrell is eager to give chances to peripheral members of his 34-man squad and feels Murray – who will begin on the bench in Dublin – will appreciate being put under pressure.
“That’s what we’re all hoping for and, do you know what, deep down I am sure that Conor is as well,” said Farrell.
“We’ve got good people here and they warrant competition – whether they admit it or not – because that will make them better players and that’s how we move forward as a group.”
📄 𝗧𝗲𝗮𝗺 𝗔𝗻𝗻𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗰𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 🟢
Andy Farrell has named his Ireland team to face Wales in Friday's #GuinnessSeries opener at @AVIVAStadium, including a debut for James Lowe 🙌#ShoulderToShoulder #AutumnNationsCup #IREvWAL pic.twitter.com/5GNqYvylLg
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 10, 2020
Munster player Murray made his international debut in 2011 and has been an almost constant presence since, winning 83 caps in total.
The 31-year-old saw off a challenge from the in-form John Cooney earlier in the year to continue his long-term half-back partnership with veteran captain Johnny Sexton.
Farrell, who has shaken up his starting XV by making seven changes for the visit of Wayne Pivac’s side, is confident 28-year-old Leinster man Gibson-Park has the composure and attributes required to run games.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) November 10, 2020
“He can play very quickly but at the same time, without contradicting myself, he can play very calmly as well,” said Farrell.
“His speed of ball is great, his skillset across the board with his hands and his kicking and his vision, decision-making is pretty good.
“But he’s a calming influence as well. Even though he’s playing quick, he’s able to see many pictures and make good decisions along the way.”