Geordan Murphy, the Leicester full-back rumoured to be on the point of walking out of the Ireland squad a week ago, yesterday walked back into the side for their biggest match in four years. Murphy will get his first start of this or indeed any other World Cup in the win-or-bust final pool match against Argentina in Paris on Sunday.
A blow to the collarbone suffered by Girvan Dempsey against France last Friday created the vacancy, but first Murphy had to leapfrog Gavin Duffy, the Connacht full-back who was on the bench for the comprehensive 25-3 defeat at Stade de France. That setback left Ireland needing to win with at least four tries against Argentina across the city at Parc des Princes to qualify for the quarter-finals, while denying the Pumas any bonus points. The presumption is that France will beat Georgia in Marseilles in a match which kicks off two hours before Ireland's.
It would appear a task made for Murphy's attacking talents, albeit they have been almost completely ignored in the tournament to date by Eddie O'Sullivan, Ireland's head coach. Murphy won his 50th cap in last month's warm-up match against Italy when the best and worst of his game was on show: the ball skills and intuitive support mixed with occasionally dozy defence.
"It was obviously disappointing not to be picked [so far]," said Murphy, whose contribution to this tournament has been coming on for roughly half a minute as a replacement against Namibia. "It is up to the individual to stay upbeat and I am very happy to be back and involved in such a huge game. It is very easy to sap energy from the squad if you are negative."
He might consult on that very subject when he gets back to his club with the acting Leicester head coach, Richard Cockerill, once banished from the England squad by Clive Woodward with the stinging description "energy-sapper".
Felipe Contepomi, the Argentina centre who earns a living with Leinster, yesterday warned against a possible Irish resurgence. "We always say that we prefer teams whose confidence is high, like France," Contepomi said. But the Pumas, having beaten the hosts on day one, are laughing their way through the World Cup whereas Ireland have achieved the near-impossible by getting irate over having to reside in Bordeaux. Apparently the hotel could be in a nicer area.
The quibbles would been quelled if Ireland had trounced Namibia and Georgia, and sneaked a win over France, none of which happened. Instead Ireland have scored seven tries in their three matches; half Argentina's total against the same opponents. The official statistics noted just one clean Irish line break against the French. That is a frighteningly poor statistic with the likes of Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll in the team. The line-out also let Ireland down.
O'Driscoll, the captain, said yesterday: "It would be a travesty to have worked as hard as we have over the last four years and not to put in a big performance this Sunday. First and foremost we have to think about our performance. Hopefully we can let that take care of whatever the score may be. If we can't, we will die trying."
So O'Sullivan – whose contract was extended until 2012 before the World Cup – has taken possibly his final punt of the tournament, though he had to delay confirmation of his starting and bench hookers with Jerry Flannery and Rory Best suffering aches and pains.
On the inclusion of Murphy and the recall of the 31-year-old wing Denis Hickie in place of Andrew Trimble, O'Driscoll said: "They provide us with more game-breakers. Denis brings raw speed while Geordan brings his ability to make something out of nothing."
Ireland have won three Triple Crowns in four years but they have never reached a World Cup semi-final. In 1995 and 2003 they lost quarter-finals tamely to France. In 1999 they were beaten in a play-off to reach the last eight by Argentina, in France. Anyone know the Irish for déjà vu?
Ireland team (v Argentina, Rugby World Cup Pool D, Parc des Princes, Paris, Sunday 30 September): G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), D Hickie (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Wasps); M Horan (Munster), TBC, J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), D Wallace (Munster), D Leamy (Munster). Replacements: TBC, S Best (Ulster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), N Best (Ulster), I Boss (Ulster), P Wallace (Ulster), A Trimble (Ulster)Reuse content