Rugby World Cup 2011
Murray handed surprise start
Conor Murray (Getty Images)
Auckland - Scrumhalf Conor Murray will start Ireland's Rugby World Cup opener against the United States after coach Declan Kidney sprang a surprise with his selections on Friday.
Murray was not expected to make the World Cup squad but he will have the opportunity to cement a place as Ireland's first choice scrumhalf against the US in New Plymouth on Sunday. Regular scrumhalf Eoin Reddan was named on the bench.
The 22-year-old has had a breakthrough year with Munster which earned him a place in the World Cup squad at the expense of Ireland's Grand Slam winning scrumhalf Tomas O'Leary, who he also overtook at provincial level last season.
"We did say we would judge it (selection) on a number of things: how the guys finished last season, how they went in pre-season," Kidney told reporters of Murray's surprise inclusion.
"Obviously he finished last season strong, he has done well in pre-season and he deserves a chance to bring his own skill set to the game."
Influential Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll, who will win his 114th cap and become the first Irishman to play in four World Cups, talked up Murray's talents.
"He is confident but not arrogant. He has good inner belief," O'Driscoll said.
"He'll get there with every game that he plays, that he gets under his belt. I'm sure everything will be a stepping stone to be a more rounded player but I think he is starting on a pretty good footing."
The inclusion of Murray, who will win his third cap, was one of a number of changes Kidney made to his side after four disappointing warm-up defeats in August and a number of injuries.
Ulster's Tom Court replaces prop Cian Healy, who has not recovered from an eye problem, with fullback Geordan Murphy and flanker Shane Jennings starting as Kidney opted not to risk Rob Kearney (groin) and Sean O'Brien (knee).
Jennings was originally left out of the 30-man squad but was a late inclusion after a serious injury to flanker David Wallace in the final warm-up loss to England.
Centre Gordon D'Arcy, who flew out late to New Zealand because of a calf strain, is fit to play, however, and will win his 60th cap alongside O'Driscoll in midfield for Sunday's Pool C match.
Blindside flanker Stephen Ferris keeps his place in the side after proving his fitness by completing 80 minutes in the England loss last month after knee trouble.
Also continuing his comeback from injury troubles is hooker Jerry Flannery, who was named amongst the replacements alongside Ireland's record points scorer Ronan O'Gara.
The US, led by former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan, are unlikely to trouble the Six Nations side and a morale boosting victory should be just the tonic ahead of the key pool match against Tri Nations winners Australia on September 17.
Kidney, however, remains cautious.
"We're not thinking about bonus points (for scoring four tries), and we won't be running over anybody," Kidney said.
"If we win 3-0, we'll take a 3-0 win. Bonus points might come into play (in the group), but if you win every match bonus points aren't an issue."
15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian
O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9
Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5
Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callagha, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom
Substitutes: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Tony Buckley, 18
Donnacha Ryan, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Sean O'Brien, 22
15 Blaine Scully, 14 Takudzwa
Ngwenya, 13 Paul Emerick, 12 Andrew Suniula, 11 James Paterson, 10
Roland Suniula, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Nic Johnson, 7 Todd Clever (captain), 6
Louis Stanfill, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 John van der Giessen, 3 Shawn Pittman,
2 Phil Thiel, 1 Mike MacDonald.
Substitutes: 16 Chris Biller, 17
Matekitonga Moeakiola, 18 Scott LaValla, 19 Pat Danahy, 20 Tim Usasz,
21 Nese Malifa, 22 Colin Hawley