Dan Leavy: Flanker pushes claim for starting place against New Zealand

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Scrum-half Conor Murray could make a surprise return to the Ireland team for the clash with world champions New Zealand next weekend, coach Joe Schmidt said on Saturday.

The British and Irish Lions scrumhalf has not played since injuring his neck during Ireland's tour of Australia in June.

"I'm assuming Conor Murray will play so they've got a good spine, him and Sexton are two of the best players in the world".

"I step back on a Thursday and from then it's really player-driven".

All three matches Ireland have played against the All Blacks since Schmidt took over in 2013 have been close, with Ireland losing tight games twice at the Aviva Stadium and also recording a first ever win against New Zealand in Chicago in 2016.

Alongside the likes of Crusaders coach Scott Robertson and All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster, Schmidt is a hot favourite to possibly replace Hansen after next year's World Cup in Japan, even earning a strong endorsement from Richie McCaw last week.

"It's not the injury it's really just how ready Conor is; how fully fit he is".

"They put some great pressure on our lineout and we struggled, but we got into the game on the back of our scrum, which was very good".

"We shouldn't really be giving them to Kiwis anyway, because we want to get as much green in there, as much volume supporting us as possible".

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Indeed a rare mistake from Joe Gomez presented Fulham with the game's best chance midway through the half. Hendo is 100 percent fit and needs games as well.

Elsewhere Peter O'Mahony [shoulder], Kieran Marmion and Bundee Aki [both tweaked ankles] were all looked at by medics after the Argentina victory and Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt was quite upbeat about their recoveries. "I am sure he will make a decision based around those things, like all of us will".

We're really happy with that.

Sean O'Brien broke his arm during his first Test match in 12 months against Argentina, and will miss the hugely-anticipated All Blacks encounter.

"Kieran Marmion just rolled his ankle a little bit, so we'd be very hopeful he'll be fine".

Schmidt admitted the 31-year-old O'Brien has been floored by his latest injury.

"From Ireland's point of view, you want to try and lock him [Schmidt] in and from New Zealand's point of view, if Steve doesn't continue, they're going to want all the options on the table". I don't think so.

"It's hard for the All Blacks to be bad two games in a row", said Ledesma. "I think it's gonna be a fast game with a lot of intensity and the physical side of the game will be tough as will the mental side".

"For Ireland to win maybe New Zealand have to be average and Ireland have to be very good".