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Murphy backs Duffy for place in Kidney squad

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Gavin Duffy, Connacht, is tackled by Paddy McAllister, left, and Ian Humphreys, right, Ulster. Celtic League, Connacht v Ulster, Sportsground, Galway. Photo: Sportsfile

Gavin Duffy, Connacht, is tackled by Paddy McAllister, left, and Ian Humphreys, right, Ulster. Celtic League, Connacht v Ulster, Sportsground, Galway. Photo: Sportsfile

Gavin Duffy, Connacht, is tackled by Paddy McAllister, left, and Ian Humphreys, right, Ulster. Celtic League, Connacht v Ulster, Sportsground, Galway. Photo: Sportsfile

HE may be one of Irish rugby's most respected operators, and an inspirational figurehead for his province, but Gavin Duffy has fallen off the radar when it comes to the national team.

First capped in 2004 on the summer tour to South Africa, the Connacht captain and full-back made the last of his 10 appearances against the USA in 2009 and the wider perception is of a dependable player and great servant of his province whose best days are behind him.

So much for perception. The reality is that Duffy (pictured below) is still only 30 and has been in superb form for Connacht all season -- second only to Leinster's Rob Kearney in terms of form Irish full-backs.

Although Ireland have not shown much interest in Duffy in recent times, his worth is not lost on his Connacht team-mates and scrum-half Frank Murphy believes the full-back's consistency has to put him in the frame for the plane to New Zealand.

"Considering the performances Gavin has put in all season, he has to be in contention for the summer tour," said Murphy.

"You could not find a more composed full-back. He is up there with Kearney when it comes to fielding high balls and when you have that skill, it lifts the whole team straight away.

"It brings the crowd in behind you as well, especially the way he takes it with that Gaelic football style, it just gives everyone a massive boost."

With two Pro12 games left (Aironi at home on Saturday and Glasgow away on May 5) and nothing tangible to play for, Connacht may be viewed as seeing out the season but Murphy believes it is important to keep the momentum built up by successive victories over the Dragons and Ulster going.

Furthermore, as well as Duffy, Murphy believes there are a clutch of players carrying individual motivation to catch Declan Kidney's attention before he names his touring party, starting in Ireland's problem position of prop.

"Absolutely, Brett (Wilkinson) injured his calf against Ulster last weekend but if he can recover in time, I think he should be a dead cert for the tour," said Murphy.

"I would love to see Ronan Loughney on it too. There has been a lot of talk about the prop situation and he is certainly one with tremendous potential. More than anything, it is the way he has improved through game time. And it's not just at scrum time, he has made a big impact around the pitch to back it up.

"Also, I think it has been John Muldoon's best season and Mike McCarthy has probably been our stand-out player."

"Then there's Tiernan O'Halloran, he is quality -- great under the high ball, a really dangerous runner and loads of confidence."

As for his own motivations, the uncapped Murphy has been at the top of his game since successful groin surgery earlier in the season but, while representing Ireland remains a career goal, it is not something he spends too much time dwelling upon.

"The injury was frustrating because it was limiting my fitness but once I came back from that, it's been great -- I haven't felt I have been playing this well in a while," said the 30-year-old.

"Of course, I would still have aspirations Ireland-wise but I haven't been involved in a long while and thinking about it would just annoy me. It is not for me to decide.

"I think I'm playing some good rugby and I just want to keep doing that -- it's what I have always tried to do and maybe it hasn't always worked out for me but I don't see any other way to go about it."

As for Connacht, Murphy, who has another year to go on his contract, is extremely positive about next season but says it is essential they learn how to close out matches consistently.

"The development of the Sportsground has been fantastic," he said.

"This is my fourth year here and I can't get over the difference. The atmosphere, the crowds, it makes such a difference to us on the pitch and you can see that Galway has become much more of a rugby-oriented town.

"Look, it is definitely encouraging, but, at the same time, we lost a lot of games with losing bonus points we probably should have won.

"That is unbelievably frustrating, but it can actually be a good thing looking ahead to next season -- we can definitely do bigger and better things if we tighten up those small margins."

Irish Independent