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Green light for Murray

IRELAND coach Declan Kidney sprung a surprise when he handed scrum-half Conor Murray only his second international start in Sunday's crunch World Cup Pool C game against Italy.

The 22-year-old Munster number nine made his debut off the bench in last month's warm-up test against France, started in Ireland's opening World Cup match against the United States, and was an impressive late replacement in the upset victory over the Wallabies.

Even so, it was something of a surprise when he was selected for his fifth cap ahead of Eoin Reddan, the starting scrum-half against Australia, who drops to the bench.

Murray will no doubt benefit from the presence outside him of his Munster team-mate Ronan O'Gara after the vastly experienced fly-half was preferred to Jonathan Sexton.

“He's a good player,” Kidney said of Murray, whose extra bulk may have worked in his favour for what is going to be a stiff physical examination.

“He's taken things in his stride, really. He got a few chances in the August games, he did well against the United States in difficult conditions and against Australia.

“He seems to be enjoying himself right now.”

Brian O'Driscoll, who sat out the win over Russia, returns to captain the team and said he had absolute faith in Murray.

“He's new but he's dealing with it extremely well,” the centre said.

“He's a confident young man, very much in his depth in the surroundings and you wouldn't know he has a handful, not even a handful, of tests under his belt.”

The pack is the same eight who performed so impressively against Australia, though lock Paul O'Connell will undergo a late fitness test on his strained hamstring. Leo Cullen, who captained the side in the 62-12 win over Russia, is likely to step in if O'Connell fails to recover.

With Australia expected to gain a bonus-point victory over Russia tomorrow, Ireland will probably need a draw or victory to progress to the quarter-finals as group winners.

“It's win or bust,” O'Driscoll said.

“We felt as though we had the ability to beat Australia but winning that game hasn't made this group any different. We still have to beat Italy.”

Having failed in the past to take their often strong Six Nations form into the World Cup arena, where they have never gone beyond the quarter-finals, O'Driscoll dismissed suggestions that beating Australia had created more pressure.

“If anything we're a bit more relaxed in our skin after the performance against Australia.

“It's about trying to improve.”

Italy need to win to have any chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time, and though they have lost their last 15 games against Ireland, the most recent, a 13-11 Rome defeat in the Six Nations in February, was hard on them.

“It's been getting closer and closer. We really had to pull it out of the bag to beat them in Rome this year,” O'Driscoll said after O'Gara's late drop goal snatched that win.

“We totally respect the quality they have but we have to be on our game and they have to deal with that too.”