November 11, 2018 / 1:20 AM / 5 days ago

Ireland confident on Henshaw, Murray an outside bet for All Blacks

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is confident centre Robbie Henshaw will be fit to face New Zealand next week and has not completely ruled out scrumhalf Conor Murray from making a surprise return when the world’s top two teams meet in Dublin.

Rugby Union - Ireland v Argentina - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - November 10, 2018 Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Henshaw was withdrawn minutes from kick-off before Ireland struggled past Argentina 28-17 on Saturday after his hamstring tightened in the warm-up. He will be monitored in the coming days but Schmidt was hopeful of his availability.

A neck injury has sidelined Murray since Ireland’s series-clinching victory over Australia in Sydney in June and the Munster number nine was not named in the Six Nations champions’ squad for the November internationals.

“I’m going to chat to Conor and see how he is and it will really be Conor’s call,” Schmidt told a news conference.

“There’s no compulsion for him to force himself into the frame unless he’s super comfortable. It’s not the injury, it’s really just how fully fit he is. It is highly unlikely that he will be involved but I will talk to him tomorrow.”

Flanker Sean O’Brien was the only player ruled out for next week and will require surgery after his comeback from injury following a year on the international sidelines was ended prematurely by a broken arm.

Kieran Marmion, who may have put himself in the driving seat at scrumhalf in Murray’s absence after doing what Schmidt described as a “super job” in a sharp, try-scoring performance, should be fine after rolling his ankle, the coach said.

Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time two years ago and have only lost four of their 24 tests since, on their way to a Six Nations grand slam and a record 10 successive home wins.

Schmidt noted how narrow the recent points differential has been against his native country, with a 21-9 loss last time out and an agonising last-gasp 24-22 defeat in 2013 bookending the famous 40-29 victory in Chicago.

“The one in 2013, I am still bleeding from that. It hurts when it happens and while Chicago was a great band aid - in fact it was a full bandage - two weeks later we were very, very much in the game and it was very tough,” he said.

“The challenge for our guys is to step up and I’m confident that they can and at the same time I’m well aware of the challenge the All Blacks present.”

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Tony Lawrence

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