Reddan admits Lions hero Murray will be 'difficult to shift' as fight for jersey intensifies
IRISH rugby does not have a strong tradition of producing Lions scrum-halves, so Conor Murray's performances last summer elevated him to new heights.
Eoin Reddan watched his international rival from home as he recovered from his broken leg, and knew that his battle to win back the Ireland No 9 jersey was going to get harder with every minute his fellow Limerick man spent on the pitch in Australia.
Murray has returned this season looking closer to the finished article. Munster coach Rob Penney has lavished the 24-year-old with praise, while the list of French clubs queuing up to sign him reads like a who's who of big spenders.
It means that most people expect Reddan to continue in his role as back-up scrum-half for the November series. His last eight caps have all come off the bench, culminating in the agonising leg-break in the draw with France last March.
As an experienced 50-cap member of the squad who had to fight every inch of the way to get his international honours in the first place, Reddan is loath to give up his position without a fight – but he admits that Murray has returned in a strong position.
"Look, he's obviously been difficult to shift so far," Reddan conceded. "He played well on the Lions our and he's played well since he came back. It's hard to say. I'm not the coach. If I was I know who I'd pick, but I'm not, so we'll just have to see how it goes.
"He seems like the same guy to me, which I think is a credit to him. He seems as he was before. His feet are firmly on the ground, and he works just as hard as he did before he went."
While he wanted to be the man who broke the Irish scrum-halves' hoodoo with the Lions, Reddan was happy to see his rival first get and then take his opportunity to shine Down Under.
"From an Irish rugby point of view, it's great," he said. "It is good that we had a No 9 there, because it does push everyone up and raise the bar for everyone. He's been a credit to himself in that he hasn't got ahead of himself or anything like. He's working hard, just as he always has, and he's been playing well."
Despite missing out on Heineken Cup starts to Isaac Boss this season, Reddan is content with how things have gone under Matt O'Connor at Leinster as he works his way back from a long lay-off.
Now that he is ensconced in Ireland camp with Joe Schmidt, he is beginning to get excited about what the national team can do under the new coach, even if he is more focused on performances than results over a gruelling November schedule.
"I think it is more about performance. We need to implement what we're doing in training. If you want to win something in the long run, you have to get better every week," Reddan explained.
"If you play worse and win, sneak a few games, it will come back to bite you.
"The emphasis for us with Joe, even before we broke (in September)... even though he wasn't with the squad he gave us things that were easily identifiable: your carries, your clean-outs, were you straight, how hard did you fight on the ground with the ball?
"We've got three tough games and to put it all on results would be silly. I think we're in a good position because we've given ourselves the best chance of succeeding this autumn.
"What I mean by succeeding is getting better every week and finishing the autumn better than we started it.
"I think we have a very good coaching team in place, a very good squad, our strength and conditioning programme is excellent so, from a player's point of view, you come to training thinking that now's the time.
"If you're being left out of the squads now there's a serious worry that Ireland are going to go places in the next 12 to 24 months."