Monday 11 December 2017

We're not a bunch of robots - Conor Murray

Scrum-half impressed with how Zebo has become more complete

Conor Murray
Conor Murray
Ireland's Conor Murray

Conor Murray has denied accusations that Ireland have become too robotic under coach Joe Schmidt.

"You don't go out on the pitch as a robot and just do exactly what you're told to do," he said.

"You do have a game plan and, under any coach, there's a game plan that you try and follow as best you can."

Schmidt certainly sets out the template within which Ireland operate with licence to take one of multiple options from the menu.

"There's times we go against the grain of play or do our own thing," stated the scrum-half.

The best example of how Ireland can play what's in front of them came from Murray's on-a-sixpence kick for Robbie Henshaw's try against England.

"If you see the little kick for Robbie; people do back themselves and express themselves if they want to.

"You can do that within a game plan as well," he said.

The Ireland coaches plant a strategy which is drilled into the players and, late into the week, the players take hold of it.

"That was probably talked about the day of the captain's run. We just had a chat: 'look, Joe and Les (Kiss), the whole lot have given us the best possible preparation for this game.

"Just bag that, have that ready to go and bring your own edge to it or your own individuality to it.'"

If Murray's kick was the single most effective example of Ireland taking the right option, Simon Zebo is looking like the Andrew Trimble of this season.

The man with the magic feet played his best game for Ireland by doing the things that were once seen as his weaknesses.

"Zebs would be the first person to say that and he is a player with X factor and flair and he likes to express himself on the pitch and he still does that," imparted his Munster team-mate.

"The areas that were highlighted by Joe for him were his fielding of the ball, his breakdown, his defence.

"They were things that were going to make him a really top class winger, which I think he is at the moment, he is playing really well.

"I think, as Joe would have said, he would accept he probably would have slipped off a few rucks a year ago.

"At the weekend when the game wasn't very expansive, we saw him being very effective. It wasn't that there was much free running and he was a standout player I thought."

Ireland have all the appearance of a tight-knit choir singing off the same hymn sheet with the music notes composed by Schmidt, Les Kiss, Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy.

It is the power of the collective, on the field and off of it, which has underpinned their three victories to have them looking down on everyone from the summit of the Six Nations table.

"We are in control of our own destiny, which is a nice place to be," said Murray.

That can all change in the blink-of-an-eye or over 80 minutes at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday week.

For all of the legitimate claims about Ireland's pre-eminence in Europe, Warren Gatland and Wales are waiting in the long grass to do what they did two years ago, lose their first match in the Six Nations before going on to win it outright.

Schmidt is halfway through his three-year contract and his half-back is adamant there has been plenty of progress.


"We're a different team to what we were last year. We've expanded our game and grown our game.

"Whether it's with less risk, I don't know. It's just the way the games have been. At the moment, it's all about Wales. We might have a different game plan against Wales with the key components still there."

Schmidt's Ireland have already pocketed a Championship. The Grand Slam must be next on the to-do list.

There is a sense that the traditional ideal of the Slam does take away from the achievement of winning the Six Nations, becoming European champions for the second consecutive season.

Is that irritating? "I've never been in the position to be irritated by that," he remarked.

"I was lucky to be in the position to win a Championship last year.

"A Grand Slam would be amazing and fantastic. A Championship would be amazing and fantastic, in my eyes anyway. I'd have to have won both to fully comment on it."

It has also gone unnoticed that every World Cup winner since Australia in 1991 has chosen pragmatism over panache.

Even the 2011 All Blacks tightened up as the pressure grew.

The risk-averse Irish are developing a structure that is well-suited to the 2015 World Cup.

It is all about building pressure and forcing mistakes.

"It's probably the type of play Joe likes and it's a winning formula.

"I don't see why it wouldn't work at a World Cup as well."

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