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Highlights on Off The Ball

Who should take over from Murray as Ireland’s nailed-on nine? | Fiona Hayes

With Andy Farrell naming an exciting, young XV to face America on Saturday, former Ireland prop F...

Who should take over from Murr...

Who should take over from Murray as Ireland’s nailed-on nine? | Fiona Hayes

With Andy Farrell naming an exciting, young XV to face America on Saturday, former Ireland prop Fiona Hayes looked at who in the current squad will remain in the squad when the more senior players return from Lions duty or abroad.

Ireland are starting a team with four debutants against the USA, rewarding young players for their provincial form and exciting many as it means that Farrell is looking to extend the depth of the Irish team ahead of the next World Cup.

One of the main areas of concern in terms of depth in recent years has been in the halfbacks, with the ageing Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton both remaining the first choice starters by some distance.

However, for Hayes, the team to play against America will give the opportunity to see if one of those positions can be filled.

Speaking on Friday’s OTB AM, Hayes mentioned that believes Farrell has found the man to step in for the current British and Irish Lions captain Conor Murray.

“I have got to say Craig Casey; I am a massive fan,” Hayes said. “I am in awe of what he brings for the size of him.

“He is just electric to watch. I’ve been up at Thomond Park, I’ve seen him play, jut watching him get around the place and he just brings that doggedness.

“He gets that ball moving and he gets that pack moving nice and quick.”

While Hayes knows that Murray himself is not passed his prime just yet, and there are other great halfbacks across the country, Munster’s Casey is her pick for the number nine jersey in the future.

“Obviously there are a few others,” Hayes said. “Luke McGrath has been playing outstanding for Leinster, [much like] Jamison Gibson-Park.

“Look, you have Conor Murray, but you have to start looking at youth now. Caolin Blade has had a great season for Connacht, but I think Casey has been backed.

“He has got the opportunity this week, and I think that he has the personality to have an absolute belter of a game.”

Hugo Keenan Ireland vs Italy

Keenan and Zebo will battle for the Ireland 15 jersey

It is not just in the halfbacks that Hayes sees a bright and exciting future for Irish rugby.

Hugo Keenan has been playing a Rob Kearney-esque role for Ireland recently, however Hayes believes that when Simon Zebo returns to Munster, the battle for the Irish 15 jersey will be fierce.

“Keenan has been in the form of his life,” Hayes said. “I’ve watched Zebo over in Racing as well, and he hasn’t really consistently played.

“The last couple of games he’s been on the bench, but he brings that x-factor; he is just so exciting to watch.

“As a coach, you are looking at if you want that x-factor or if you want that person that is solid as a rock.

“I’d be looking at Keenan, but I’d say that Zebo would come in and give him a run for his money.”

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