The shadow of Joe Schmidt casts wide over the Ireland team but the Kiwi coach does not want his players to become automatons. Nor is the coach a black thunder cloud waiting to rain on the first player who missteps.
Following much commentary on the style of rugby Ireland has played in their opening three Six Nations matches and the increasing reliance of tactical kicking and players built for collision rugby, Conor Murray dismisses any notion that his team-mates are too timid to break out of rigid patterns set down by the coach.
The scrumhalf says that while they are all precisely tutored and do exactly what they are told by the coaching staff, they have licence to break the mould set by Schmidt. While they have to diligently follow orders, they are not expected to behave like machines.
“To a certain extent,” says Murray about the team having to follow orders. “But you don’t go out on the pitch as a robot and just do exactly what you’re told to do. You do have a game plan and, under any coach, there’s a game plan that you try and follow it as best you can.”
The Munster player, who would have pushed
for man of the match last Sunday cites left wing
as a player that may have “slipped off a few rucks” a year ago but has tightened that up and remains a flair player. Henshaw’s try against England was also about players breaking out of the mould.
He nodded to the willing Murray to kick the penalty advantage after a high tackle on Rob Kearney, with the 21-year-old catching and dotting down ahead of England fullback Alex Goode. They actually practised that move but the point is well made.
Schmidt does not stop any of his players from backing themselves. Short of causing a catastrophe, if they see something on they can reach for it.
“Look throughout the video and there’s times we go against the grain of play or do our own thing,” said Murray. “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.
“I suppose you listen to Joe and the coaching staff all the way through the week and they give you the feedback and the correct gameplan and you rep it out, and if there are a few tweaks that he wants to talk to you about he’ll do that.
“But once you go out on to the pitch you should have a clear mind and know exactly what to do, and then in other areas of the game when split-second decisions are to be made, you back yourself, that’s completely fine as well.
“That’s absolutely fair enough. But if it doesn’t work out and you put the team under pressure, then you might find yourself talked to.”
Whether the challenge of the World Cup is sympathetic to Ireland’s style of play – kicking in all its guises from Murray and
, strong set-pieces and if England are to be believed, more than just an edge at the break down – is still open to question. Of course Schmidt could point to South Africa, Australia and England and ask what’s not to like.
“I don’t know,” says Murray hesitantly on whether the Irish game is set up for the RFU extravaganza in September. “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. You can see against Georgia, for example, a lesser opposition and we played a really expansive game and there was offloads and line breaks all over the place.”
“It’s probably the type of play Joe likes and it’s a winning formula – so, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work at a World Cup as well.”
Now it’s about Wales.
“We might have a different gameplan,” says Murray. Believe it.