Jordi Murphy faces a big task against England
Jordi Murphy can handle the “huge physicality” of England’s back-row in Sunday’s pivotal RBS 6 Nations showdown in Dublin, according to Ireland team-mate Peter O’Mahony.
Loose forward Murphy is primed to step in at number eight for Ireland, with Jamie Heaslip recuperating from the back injury inflicted by Pascal Pape's knee in the 18-11 victory over France on Valentine's Day.
Leinster back-rower Murphy is expected to start against England in Heaslip's absence, and his selection case has been strengthened by Tommy O'Donnell still battling the after-effects of concussion.
Munster captain O'Mahony and Leinster's Sean O'Brien will add experience and steel around the talented but green six-cap Leinster star Murphy when the Six Nations' two unbeaten sides slug it out at the Aviva Stadium.
O'Mahony believes 23-year-old Murphy has all the credentials to cope with England's bullish back-row trio of James Haskell, Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola.
"Jordi is a quality player: he's well rounded, well able to carry hard and do the grunt-work, but he's got a good set of skills," said O'Mahony.
"He's got a lovely pass and he's a good lineout option: he's a quality all-rounded player.
"England are a hugely physical side and that always starts with your pack. Guys like Haskell have brought a huge physicality to what they do. Vunipola, guys like (Dave) Atwood are really stepping up to the mark.
"They are physical guys: they are always looking to get them on the front foot. Whenever England are on the front foot, it stems from their pack."
Back-rower O'Donnell suffered a concussion in Munster's 25-25 Pro12 draw with the Scarlets on Saturday, and is progressing through the raft of testing required to be cleared for action.
Murphy was most likely front of the queue to replace the injured vice-captain Heaslip in any case, and O'Donnell's continued concussion wrangles could clear his selection path.
Murphy made a late cameo off the bench in Ireland's 13-10 defeat to England at Twickenham in last season's Six Nations, the last time head coach Joe Schmidt's men have suffered a loss.
Ireland can equal their all-time record with a 10th consecutive victory this weekend, and O'Mahony believes 23-year-old Murphy is a different player a year on from that Twickenham defeat.
"I think he has come on since then: he's developed hugely," said O'Mahony.
"The more experience and game time he is getting between Leinster and Ireland over the last couple of weeks, you can do nothing but develop."
Ireland have retained 31-year-old Heaslip in their squad despite the 70-cap number eight being unable to face England.
The Leinster stalwart could yet miss the rest of the tournament after suffering three fractured vertebrae from lock Pape's crude knee to his back, that landed the France veteran a 10-week ban.
Ireland have called Ulster's Roger Wilson and Munster's Billy Holland into their 36-man training squad as they step up preparations to host England at the weekend.
England will travel to Dublin still buoyed by their 21-16 opening-weekend win against Wales in Cardiff.
Captain Chris Robshaw imposed his authority off the field and on it that night, waving away Wales' late arrival to the pitch before strong-arming the hosts' much-vaunted back-row.
Ireland's bullish blindside O'Mahony admitted Schmidt's men are well aware of the influence the Harlequins talisman exerts over Stuart Lancaster's side.
"I think he's a quality player," said O'Mahony of the England skipper.
"He's been certainly in the forefront of what England have done over the last three weeks.