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It would be crazy not to start Conor Murray if Johnny Sexton is not fit for the Six Nations opener, according to Ronan O’Gara.

The former Ireland fly-half was speaking to Off The Ball and felt that Andy Farrell should go with Murray over John Cooney at scrum-half as the team will need experience.

“If Johnny [Sexton] is not fit to start I think it would be crazy not to play Conor [Murray] because experience at half-back is crucial.

“I think Conor Murray presumably will be with Ross Byrne - who I think has been under-appreciated in recent months. I think he’s really had an impressive season ever since he missed out on the World Cup.

“It’s hard for him, I think, to get the full appreciation for what he’s doing because [Leinster] have such a juggernaut of a team. When Johnny plays, obviously he has such high standards, and he plays well.

“But it’s exactly the same result and performance for Leinster when Ross Byrne plays. So I think he deserves huge credit for that. He’s maturing well. He’s taking on the line so much better than he has in the past,” O’Gara said.

While the former Munster fly-half feels there is certainly an argument to start Cooney if Sexton is fit, Murray’s experience should not be disregarded.

“If Johnny’s fit it creates a little bit of a possibility of having that debate about the number nine.

“But for me, I think for knowing the character with Conor, I don’t think you need to sit him out of the team to get a response.

The final round of the Heineken Champions Cup takes place this weekend and while Munster are likely out of the competition, O’Gara felt that a good performance from Murray could seal his place in Ireland’s starting team.

“I think what people are forgetting is the importance of rounds five and six in the Heineken Cup. So round five is Ulster-Clermont, which is as close to a test environment as you get.

“Cooney went to Clermont and I didn’t think he was on the pace anywhere near where he was been in rounds one to four when he was on fire. Tomorrow’s game will be absolutely crucial.

“Otherwise, I don’t think there’ll be any question marks about who starts against Scotland. They’re both the same age.

“Conor has 80 caps and he’s got a lot of credit in the bank. I agree his form isn’t where it needs to be and hasn’t been.

“But I’m sure he appreciates now that there’s a realistic threat of his position being up for grabs as opposed to speculation,” O’Gara commented.

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Conor Murray Ireland John Cooney Ronan O'Gara

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