Murphy keen to capitalise on big opportunity
After the carnage of Black Wednesday at Carton House last week, yesterday's Captain's Run for Ireland at Rome's Stadio Olimpico was primarily about numbers: getting back safely to the team hotel with the same number of players as boarded the bus 90 minutes earlier. Losing four players in one session will do that to you.
And sure enough, it was incident-free yesterday. For Jordi Murphy, that was especially good news given that it was the injury-fest last week that opened the door for him.
Joe Schmidt has always been well disposed to Murphy, not least for the ease with which he transferred north from Leinster, thus spreading the talent load. At the time you felt that move alone was a marker for the World Cup, so this afternoon is a perfect chance for the back-rower to illustrate the point.
"Yeah, it is (massive)," he agreed. "There's no beating around the bush, the World Cup is in whatever it is, seven months' time. This is a big opportunity and I plan on taking it with both hands. They don't come by that often because obviously a lot of the boys in these positions have been playing really well. I'm very much game-focused and I know I have to put in a performance this weekend but yeah look, it's a big opportunity."
It helps that the man he might have been facing, Sergio Parisse, is out, and was joined by flanker Sebastian Negri. So while Ireland's back-row has been shaped by injuries to CJ Stander and Jack Conan, it's not as if they are playing against Italy's best.
With Parisse out of the picture the captaincy falls to another old hand, Leonardo Ghiraldini. He doesn't see a golden opportunity coming their way on the back of Ireland already having been well beaten by England.
"We play different rugby," he said. "England have been amazing at the breakdown, the physicality and they bring everything. If you want to win a match at that level, you have to win the battle at every breakdown, in every tackle, in every collision.
"Mentally, England were amazing against Ireland because they put pressure on them at every moment. So we have to play our rugby.
"We know we're playing one of the best teams in the world. They are really well organised and it seems they change their plan every week. So our goal is to play our rugby."
It hasn't worked against Ireland since 2013 in Rome when another freakish day on the injury front saw the away side unable to finish the game with anything like the right players in the right positions. That was Ghiraldini's only win over Ireland in 11 Tests. He won't, on the occasion of his 102nd cap, expect much to change as the trajectory of the two countries has had little in common since then. This afternoon is unlikely to see a shift in direction.
With Rory Best given the weekend off, Ireland will be captained by Peter O'Mahony, who admits that this one is extra special.
"I've been lucky enough to captain the team a couple of times before when the other lads were out, but to get a chance to captain the team in the Six Nations, it's an incredible competition, one of the best in the world," he said. "It's not about personal milestones, but it's certainly special for me to be asked to lead the lads out tomorrow."
Coming Soon: Independent.ie's new GAA newsletter. Sign up here
Sunday Indo Sport