Scrum-half Conor Murray could make a surprise return to the Ireland team for the clash with world champions New Zealand next weekend, coach Joe Schmidt said on Saturday.
Murray has not played any competitive rugby this season due to a neck injury.
The decision lies in the hands of the 29-year-old who has formed a world class half-back partnership with Jonathan Sexton climaxing with the Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year.
Kieran Marmion who stepped in for Murray for the 28-17 victory over Argentina on Saturday acquitted himself well, scoring their first try, but went off after rolling his ankle. Marmion’s replacement Luke McGrath also impressed in scoring a third try that finally killed off the Pumas.
Schmidt said the fact Murray hadn’t been included in the matchday squad despite returning to training a while ago was not down to his injury.
“It was to take the pressure off him,” Schmidt said.
“There is no compulsion for him to push himself forward and into the frame unless he is super comfortable.
“The three guys who we have had in the squad have done super jobs.
“However, Conor has an incredible capacity to give us the tempo and the pass that makes a world class player,” he added.
Schmidt, whose side claimed a record 10th successive home, said he would chat to Murray to work out if he felt in a good enough place to come back for a match that pitches the two top-ranked teams in the world against each other.
“It’s not the injury, it is really how he is and how fit he is,” said the 53-year-old New Zealander.
“The injury itself has gone really well it is tough to throw him back into a match of this intensity.
“It is highly unlikely he will be involved but I will speak to him about it.”
Schmidt said his side would be up for the challenge of the All Blacks after a serious workout against the Argentinians.
– ‘I am still bleeding’ –
Schmidt has tasted success against his native country with a historic win for Ireland in Chicago and also defeat with two narrow losses either side of that result in 2016.
“It is so little to do with me, I step back on a Thursday it is really player driven,” he said.
“I would be delighted if we are as competitive as we were the last three times.
“In those three games, it was 2013 I am still bleeding from. It hurts when it happens while Chicago was a full bandage.
“We stepped up the last time they were in town, the challenge is for them to step up and I am confident they can and they are well aware the challenge they present.”
Schmidt, who will announce before the end of the year whether he will stay on after the 2019 World Cup when his present contract comes to an end, doesn’t believe the fact both New Zealand and Ireland were pushed hard on Saturday will impact on their match.
“I don’t think it really spills over into the narrative,” he said.
“Neither of us will be specially influenced by today.
“They will say they were 15-0 down (against England) and didn’t start well but came back and they will see we also didn’t begin well but also fought back.
“The All Blacks will first look at themselves and build themselves going forward,” he added.