Ireland captain wants rookie Murphy to ‘play his game’

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell said rookie No 8 Jordi Murphy must “play his own game” on Saturday rather than worry about his “superstar” opposite number, Italy’s Sergio Parisse.

Italy's No 8 Sergio Parisse, above, may be in the mind of Ireland's rookie No 8 Jordi Murphy, but Ireland captain Paul O'Connell wants Murphy to just worry about his own game. Gabriel Bouys / AFP
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Ireland captain Paul O’Connell said rookie No 8 Jordi Murphy must “play his own game” on Saturday rather than worry about his “superstar” opposite number, Italy’s Sergio Parisse.

O’Connell said it would be “strange” to open the Six Nations against the Italians in Rome without his right-hand man Jamie Heaslip.

Vice captain and near-ever-present No 8 Heaslip will miss just his second Six Nations match in Ireland’s past 36 after failing to beat shoulder trouble in time for the Stadio Olimpico clash.

“It is strange,” O’Connell said f Heaslip’s rare absence. “You definitely lose a relaxed leadership around the place. He always has plenty to say and a good way of saying it. There’s no doubt he’d be a handy guy to have, especially with a few inexperienced guys in the team, but that’s part and parcel of it, you just have to get on with it.

“Having watched Jordi in the last few months, his own game is excellent. He’s incredibly fit, incredibly powerful, an excellent ball-carrier, a very clever player as well.”

The Irish captain noted Parisse so often provides Italy’s rhythm, guile and finesse, and also lacks nothing in guts.

O’Connell hailed Parisse, 31, as “one of the best in the world”, but expects four-cap Murphy to handle the tussle.

“There’s no doubt Parisse’s a superstar, a fantastic player, but I don’t think you come directly up against your opposite number all that much,” O’Connell said.

“The big thing for Jordi is to play his own game.”

Scotland coach Vern Cotter has warned his pack they had better be ready for a fight at Paris today.

The New Zealander has made just two alterations to the side that scored five tries against Tonga at Rugby Park in November for Scotland’s opening Six Nations clash with France.

Euan Murray takes Geoff Cross’s slot in the front row, while centre Mark Bennett comes into the team in place of Sean Lamont.

But it is among the forward division where the head coach expects the main skirmishes to be played out at the Stade de France.

With a set of on-form backs eager to get their hands on the ball, though, the Kiwi said he believes a strong display from his pack could set up a winning performance.

“We’re feeling excited,” Cotter said. “It’s nice to be able to see the two Gray brothers – Jonny and Richie – together again and Euan Murray comes in too. The tight forward battle will be critical [Saturday].

“France are a big, heavy forward pack, and I think they anticipate they will dominate us, so really our guys have got to roll their sleeves up and try to find parity in the tight exchanges, get ball and free up.

“In the half-backs, Greig Laidlaw is a very experienced player and he has got Finn Russell under his wing.

“They have been working hard on game strategy and game management and they will be assisted by others.

“The guys want to do well. It’s been a long time between drinks – 16 years – and they see that as a challenge

“Whatever happens I’m sure they will acquit themselves well. They are all very proud to pull on that jersey.”

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