Conor Murray to make up for ‘one of worst days’ of career

Defeat to Pumas in World Cup quarter-finals still stings ahead of meeting this Saturday

Connor Murray next to the scrum during Ireland’s defeat to Argentina in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Connor Murray next to the scrum during Ireland’s defeat to Argentina in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

For Conor Murray and the rest of the Ireland squad, this Guinness Series has made for a much lighter load than the memorable November of last year. Feeling fresher than at this point a year ago, all the more so after a six-week post-Lions break, even so it was a “strange” experience being released from camp last Thursday and watching last Saturday’s game against Fiji at home in Patrickswell.

“It was my mother’s birthday last week and obviously I was in camp, so we ordered a sushi takeaway to my house and threw on the fire and watched the game.”

For the duration of the game, he admits he wasn’t much company. “I’m vocal enough because you would have trained with the lads last week and you know the plays and the patterns that we’re trying to do and get through, and you know what they’re trying to do defensively.

“So you’re screaming in our language, and my mother and my sister just couldn’t understand what I was doing. And I can’t listen to people around me when I’m watching a game. I kind of get into my own world, so I wasn’t really talking to them for about 80 minutes, but then we had a nice evening after that.”

Now though, while the opener against South Africa set the tone for the rest of the Guinness Series, this Saturday’s latest rendezvous with Argentina sets the tone for the two months between now and the Six Nations.

That is the bigger picture. The countries’ last meeting, when Argentina beat Ireland 43-20 in the World Cup quarter-finals, is a relatively faint backdrop.

“People have asked me already: ‘Is it about the World Cup last time round?’ That’s going to be in some people’s heads. It’s natural as that was the last time we played them but this is such a new group. This November has been a chance to get back together from the Lions tour and from the American/Japan tour, and just get everyone together, and get going again.

“We’ve been building week on week here and this week is a big opportunity to put down a marker. November is really important, but we’re building for other things as well. That’s the way we view it, because by the time the Six Nations comes around you’re going to come up against some really tough teams and you’re going to need to know how to play with each other pretty sharpish.”

Still and all, Murray is liable to be one of nine players from that quarter-final match-day 23 to be involved again this Saturday and, well, he did bring it up.

“I kind of knew it was going to come up anyway,” he says, laughing, before admitting: “It was probably one of the worst days in an Irish jersey for a load of reasons.

“We gave them a good head start, and then we clawed our way back to three points down, and then we just let it slip again. Yeah, a really tough day, and they’re the days you don’t like to have, but you also learn an awful lot about yourself and the team in those days.”

Argentina ended a run of seven successive defeats against Italy in Florence last Saturday, but were competitive throughout the Rugby Championship as they were against England a week previously.

Murray has been impressed, referencing players such as the halfbacks Martin Landajo and Nicolas Sanchez, their fantastic hooker and captain Agustin Creevy, and elusive fullback Joaquin Tuculet.

“They are an emotional group as well, any game they are up for it and they don’t go away easily. It’s going to be exciting. Can’t wait.”

The Pumas have long since moved on from the one-off mauling team which used to drag Ireland into arm wrestles, and part of Saturday’s appeal is that they will be the last non-European team any of this Ireland squad will face before next summer.

“They seem to be a team that really focus on attack and they can attack you on both sides of the ruck. Landajo really likes mini-plays around the ruck and then he has Sanchez out wide who can show more, distribute and kick. Once it gets to the wider channels those guys have really good feet and they can stand you up and take you on the inside. So you have to be really well connected. You’ve got to slow the breakdown down, try and look after their threats. They are different from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.”

Central to the Irish game now are Murray and Johnny Sexton, world-class operators who have been playing together now for six years, invaluable for a half-back partnership in creating a telepathic understanding.

“Telepathic yeah, but he still finds stuff to give out to me about. Don’t worry about that. That is just Johnny,” jokes Murray, although he does bark back. “You have to otherwise you would be goosed.

“Whatever about him as a player, getting to know Johnny as a person over the last few years, being mates with him now, rather than how it was when I first came in, when it was just a fella I played with, that definitely makes it easier.”

“And then you are together so much in training, there is an understanding, and I think it [their personal relationship] is in a really good place. I enjoy playing with Johnny. Within this environment, he is a real leader along with Bestie and Seánie. It is a good relationship at the moment.”

Long may it last.

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