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Sexton and O'Mahony in captaincy battle as Murray targets glory

 

Jonathan Sexton, right, with team-mates Ross Byrne, left, and Jordan Larmour, during Ireland rugby squad training at Royal Pines Resort in Queensland, Australia. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton, right, with team-mates Ross Byrne, left, and Jordan Larmour, during Ireland rugby squad training at Royal Pines Resort in Queensland, Australia. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Conor Murray rejects the notion that Ireland are favourites to win a series in Australia for the first time since 1979, but the scrum-half says the Grand Slam champions are desperate to build on their spring success by laying down a marker Down Under.

The Ireland squad trained for the first time since arriving yesterday and Joe Schmidt names his team early tomorrow morning. Dan Leavy has emerged as a doubt for the series opener, but otherwise head coach Schmidt is picking from a full deck after Robbie Henshaw, Iain Henderson and Bundee Aki trained yesterday.

The big question ahead of the team selection is who will captain the side, with Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony vying for the honour after Rory Best missed the tour with a hamstring issue.

That choice may be simplified if Schmidt makes changes to the team that finished the Six Nations on such a high in March and he has suggested that he may mix and match throughout this three-Test series with the World Cup in mind.

Thus, Sexton could be handed the leadership this week with O'Mahony taking the captaincy in week two or vice versa. Despite the scope for changes, Murray is determined that the team build on their Six Nations win.

"This group, the success that we had the last time we were together was fantastic, we've all been aiming for that for quite a while but we all want to finish this season on a high and we're all really competitive," he said.

"It's a challenge to come here against one of the big-dog teams and put down a marker and to get a result down here is something everyone in our group wants to do - our coaching staff, the wider staff and our playing group, it's a really competitive environment and I think we're really good at that, just moving on and looking at the next target, our next challenge."

Scrum coach Greg Feek said the squad must park their Six Nations success in order to achieve another milestone in the coming weeks.

"We've got to look at what's happened over the last four months," he said. "That comes week by week, keep fighting for it and keep fighting for performances that would merit that. A lot of things around starting well and that first action we do is going to be a big thing this week."

Irish Independent

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