'Legend' Murray set for landmark 100th cap against Springboks

Andy Farrell said he is in awe of Conor Murray who will become the eighth Irish player to reach the 100 caps landmark when he starts against world champions South Africa in Saturday's autumn international Test match at Lansdowne Road.

The 33-year-old scrum-half gets the opportunity as Jamison Gibson-Park, the man who has replaced him as first choice, has yet to play this term due to a hamstring problem.

"I am in awe of these people," said Ireland head coach Farrell at a press conference on Thursday referring to Murray and his longevity.

"He is a legend of Irish rugby as he has shown through the years. He is a tough old character and steely strong.

"The biggest compliment I can pay him is he is a top class bloke.

"I do not know anyone who has a bad word to say about him.

"It is incredible how he has managed himself throughout his career and I know no one who has a bad word to say about him."

It is Murray's first start since the victory over Argentina last November and only his second since the 2021 Six Nations match with England.

His selection reunites him at half-back with his long-time Test partner Johnny Sexton, the Ireland captain.

Murray, whose try-scoring form dipped to the extent that he scored just one try in his last 29 Tests, is the sixth scrum-half to reach 100 caps.

He joins Australian duo George Gregan and Will Genia, England's Ben Youngs, All Black Aaron Smith and Italy's Alessandro Troncon.

Auckland-born Gibson-Park, who was instrumental in Ireland's historic Test series win over his fellow New Zealanders in July, is on the bench.

Farrell, though, has opted to select Hugo Keenan at full-back even though he too has yet to play this term owing to knee and abdominal injuries.

The 26-year-old has become one of Farrell's key players since he took over after the 2019 World Cup. He has started 17 of the last 18 Tests, rested only for last season's Six Nations match with Italy.

"His selection is a calculated choice," said Farrell.

"I could talk about Hugo all day.

"He is the fittest and most diligent in his work and brings confidence to the group.

"We think he is in a good space."

The only other significant change in the starting line-up is the selection of Ulster wing Robert Balacoune, who gets the nod as James Lowe is injured.

"He offers something different," said Farrell.

"This is an opportunity to see how he handles the big occasion.

"It is up to him and his team-mates to help him seize it."

Ireland are hosting the Springboks for the first time since 2017 when they thrashed the visitors 38-3.

However, two years later, with Rassie Erasmus having replaced Allister Coetzee as head coach and with many of the same players from that defeat, the Boks lifted the World Cup for the third time in their history.

"They are a different challenge for us from the All Blacks," said Farrell.

"It will help us down the track 100 percent. They will play to their strengths and they are a world class side."

Adding spice to the encounter is both sidea are in the same pool at next year's World Cup.

"There wll be lessons learned," said Farrell.

"The team that loses I think will learn a little bit more as in which direction to take both in play and personnel terms.

"That is why I think this Test is priceless."

Team (15-1)

Hugo Keenan; Robert Baloucoune, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Mack Hansen; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Caelan Doris; Josh van der Flier, Peter O'Mahony; James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne; Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan, Andrew Porter

Replacements: Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Joey Carbery, Stuart McCloskey.

Coach: Andy Farrell (ENG)