Murray confident of facing up to England's strong men
The thunder clap of the chariot racing towards the Aviva was received by Conor Murray yesterday in a way that was less skittishly brave and more self-sufficient, or undaunted. You get the feeling England would quite like the feel of the Duke of Leinster’s Palladian mansion. But this week in Carton House is as much, or more, about Ireland’s state of mind.
Then again maybe neoclassical architecture is old England as Stuart Lancaster has done all but move their training centre to a sheep farm in the Cumbrian Hills. Their newly-minted humility combined with the energy from crushing Scotland under the wheels as well as French capitulation to Italy has some tipping them as championship favourites.
This is a match between two sides with self-belief. Week one and Ireland have also found purchase on the tournament. To win the scrumhalf believes Ireland must “take away their threats”. That requires truncating history and not looking to England’s 30-9 win last year, a game Murray missed through injury.
“Yeah, I was really disappointed to miss last year,” he says. “I don’t think we are going to look at that game too much. There’s quite a few changes in the team and we’re in a confident mood.”
Lancaster’s first lesson has been to teach the team the meaning of graft. There are no stars, save Chris Ashton and in time, Owen Farrell. Despite beating the All Blacks in November, England arrive with few notions of entitlement to silverware. The coach has seen to that.
“I think they will still be confident,” says Murray. “They have every right to be confident if you look at their last results against New Zealand, and in November they played quite well.
“Against Scotland they put them away – not easily but very clinical in what they did. They aren’t arrogant, they are just a confident group of players. They carry themselves quite well . . . and they have every right to. We are expecting a big battle and we are going to have to look after ourselves.”
What Ireland will take out of the Welsh game is everything. Their offensive creativity in much of the first half and the sandbagging defence during the second half. No doubt they had a peep at themselves in Cardiff and liked most of it.
“I think most game are going to be a vicious physical battle,” he says, momentarily reflecting. “It was quite pleasing at the weekend. Our breakdown work against Wales . . . our ball was quick and it allowed us to break forward quickly and we stood up to the physical challenge that was presented to us.
“I’ve only played them (England) once so I don’t have that much on-field experience but from watching them they are seriously physical. The breakdown is huge in rugby. That is where most games are decided and they are good at it. We dealt with Warburton and the likes last week. We managed to secure quick ball for and took away their threats early. So once we look after our breakdown against the English...”
Ireland’s scrum was pushed back last year and Ireland will have learned something there other than fearing it again. Murray understands that the low number will be at the heart of Sunday’s arm wrestle.
“Players like Seán O’Brien and Donnacha Ryan, who made up to 20 tackles in the game . . .” he says without really needing to expand. “But I don’t think we can use that (fatigue) as an excuse this week. We have enough staff and experience to recover properly and get on with it and be ready for another big game.”