Paul O’Connell, the Ireland captain, believes rookie No 8 Jordi Murphy must “play his own game” today rather than worry about his “superstar” opposite number on the field, Italy’s Sergio Parisse.
O’Connell has admitted it will be “strange” to open the Six Nations against the Azzurri in Rome without his right-hand man, Jamie Heaslip. The vice-captain and near- ever-present No 8 will miss just his second Six Nations match of Ireland’s last 36, after failing to beat shoulder trouble in time for the match at the Stadio Olimpico.
Italy captain Parisse so often provides Italy’s rhythm, guile and finesse, but lacks nothing in guts either. O’Connell praised the 31-year-old as “one of the best in the world”, but expects Murphy, who has just four caps, to handle the battle.
“It is strange. You definitely lose a relaxed leader around the place,” O’Connell said of Heaslip’s rare absence. “He always has plenty to say and a good way of saying it. And 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.
“We’ve had to play without some experienced guys in big games in recent years and you’ve just got to get on with it.”
As for Heaslip’s replacement, O’Connell went on: “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.
“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. The big thing for Jordi is to play his own game.”
Heaslip will be ready to play in Ireland’s next Six Nations game after today, against France in Dublin on 14 February, as will Johnny Sexton. The British and Irish Lions fly-half has been passed fit after his enforced 12-week lay-off following four concussions in 12 months.
Just as Murphy stands in for Heaslip, Munster fly-half Ian Keatley is deputising for Sexton.
Flanker Sean O’Brien will play in a Test for the first time since November 2013 after finally beating his long-standing chronic shoulder trouble. But O’Connell challenged O’Brien’s team-mates to ease the burden on the workaholic Leinster flanker.
“It’s excellent to have Sean back, but I think it’s important that we don’t put too much pressure on him as a team,” O’Connell said.
“He’s going to be really enthusiastic to take on a big workload as always. He’s a fantastic ball-carrier, a fantastic tackler, very good on the ground as well.
“I think it’s important that we take that workload off him and let him find his way into the game as well.”Reuse content