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Munster and Ireland's Conor Murray. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Munster and Ireland's Conor Murray. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Munster and Ireland's Conor Murray. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Former English fly-half Stuart Barnes has gone on record as saying Ireland have the best half-backs in Europe.

One of them - Jonathan Sexton - is one of five nominees for the IRB World Player of the Year.

The other is many critics idea of the best nine in the northern hemisphere

But, coach Joe Schmidt will make sure all feet stapled to the floor.

Ireland just have to get on with doing what is necessary to make the marginal gains that mean everything at the highest level in the game.

"We're not falling in love with ourselves by any means," said Conor Murray.

"We know when we don't show up and we lose out on those little margins we have seen what Australia do. We were well beaten last year.

"We know, for us, to play well and get results we have to be really sharp. And that's how it's been in training."

There has to be a pinch of added spice from the fact that Ireland came up dismally short against Australia in their second international under Schmidt.

That still rankles inside the camp.

Was it Ireland's worst performance in Schmidt's short time? "I don't know. There could be an argument for that, yeah. Just things didn't go right for us," considered th scrum-half.

"We were maybe a little bit complacent thinking we had a right to play well against Australia and probably beat them.

"To play any southern hemisphere team you have got to be on top of your game and really play well and have a bit of edge about you. We were probably missing that last year, came up short in a couple of areas which we are looking not to do this year."

Australia already hold the Indian sign over Wales. South Africa have the edge on England. New Zealand have the same historical relationship with Ireland.

It would plant a seed of doubt in Irish minds were they to come up short of the mark at home against the Wallabies again, especially when they have come so far in a year.

On a personal level, Murray has been on an upward trajectory since succeeding Tomás O'Leary and Peter Stringer as the first choice scrum-half at Munster.

achieve

His career has become a mirror into what Ireland are trying to achieve, never sitting on his laurels, always looking for the next niche on the rock-face of rugby.

"We can't afford to play badly and be a reactive side and come out the next week fighting and trying to put things right," he said.

"We've got to be consistent and make sure we're on a good upward curve, not wait to be knocked down to come back up again."

The notion Ireland welcomes with soaked hands the onset of a stormy day in order to be able to live with the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses is an outdated legacy.

"We're gone beyond that now, hoping for rain, tough conditions. The dry ball suits us and that is the way any team likes to play.

"You can be a lot sharper and play at a better pace so that is absolutely what we'd like.

"I don't think we're a team that prays for a bad day and the rain comes down and we can drag a team down and hold on in there.

"Look at the New Zealand game, it was a perfect day, dry ball, no wind and we played really well and they played well also, so I think weather doesn't really affect us too much."

While South Africa are revered for their physicality, Australia trade on their smarts. So do Ireland.

This was never better shown than in the way a pre-planned move exploited the Springboks when Murray's delicate chip was delivered over the line by Tommy Bowe.

"Yeah, you're looking for fine margins and you're looking for something you can call upon in pressure situations," he said. "Not only the technical aspect of it, knowing when to kick and what type of kick is required.

"It's about playing more Test rugby. You just understand the game more."


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