Ireland ‘want something a little bit more’ says Murray
Scrumhalf says players will have to continue to trust their instincts to land Grand Slam
Conor Murray makes a break during Ireland’s Six Nations win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
They were having dinner with the Scottish players when they heard the result from France last Saturday night. Ireland had won the Six Nations Championship. It was not quite but almost ‘Ho Hum.’
There were handshakes from the Scots, a few back slaps. But rooted in the satisfaction was an awareness by the players that the team haven’t yet brought it home.
With each week promising something big to win, the flip side has been an increasingly bigger prize to lose. And here we now are. In Dublin last week as France celebrated in Paris there was no Irish party, no night out. Instead a deferral.
Importantly, suggests Conor Murray, this Irish team knows where it is headed, what it wants. The psychology of putting all on ice may have oddly helped in shaping this week’s preparation.
“Yeah I think so, that’s a good point. If we had won it and there was a lot of celebration on the pitch, then it would have been a lot more difficult this week,” says the Irish scrumhalf.
“I think the fact that we won it while we were sitting down having dinner and there wasn’t that much celebration, I think it actually shows the mentality of the group, that we want something a little bit more.
“It focuses us for the week ahead and what we need to do and what we want to achieve. That’s obviously a Grand Slam.”
Murray has won a couple of Championships before. As his career moves forward, a Grand Slam and also a decent run in a World Cup have been out of reach. What makes another win this week appealing in a broader sense is that it is in tournament play. It is five matches in a row, while managing injuries to players along the way.
It is one of the reasons Joe Schmidt has been so encouraged by the way the team has patched up without losing performance.
Five wins in a row in the Tokyo 2019 RWC would put Ireland in the semi-final, four pool matches and a quarter-final.
“I think occasions like this, massive games with a lot of pressure, the challenge is that you don’t go into your shell and tighten things up but express yourself.
“We are coached really well and we have our game plan and structure but there is a lot of natural ability in the group. People plays heads-up rugby, people play football. People back themselves in certain instances and we can’t lose it in the challenge of this week. People with those kind of instincts shouldn’t shy away because that adds so much to our game plan and to what we are trying to do.
“It’s great to know you can do that, then like you said building performances and getting better week on week, knowing that you’re getting better and that you’re growing, fixing things that haven’t gone so well.”
He remembers last year, the joy of beating England more than the venal joy of denying them a Grand Slam. He also remembers the muted celebrations and the paradox of England losing the game but having to shelve their disappointment and look pleased in the middle of the ground accepting the winners’ trophy.
There’s a message there too for Ireland. It is that the best written scripts with the most believable narratives often have a surprise ending. It is weeks like this Schmidt staples like process and discipline pay dividends. Minds don’t wander.
“What happened with England last year was fantastic for us,” he says. “And the way they celebrated. The air was a little bit out of their tyres. That’s not something I’m thinking about.
“I’m not thinking about the trophy or the presentation or anything like that. It’s about going over to Twickenham and putting in a performance that puts you in a position to win. Like I said, the way we reacted on Saturday when we knew we had won it, it shows a lot about the group.”
It seems strange that Ireland’s ballooning success so far was sprung from the boot of Johnny Sexton after 41 phases on a rain-soaked pitch in France. A drop kick that launched a credible Grand Slam assault.
Had he missed the dynamic of the competition would have changed. Doubt might have clouded confidence and drawn away the energy of winning and winning and winning and winning again.
“Yeah,” says Murray. “When it’s all said and done and it works out you can tell a good story about it (Sexton’s drop kick). At that time in Paris when it happened you just knew the effect it would have on the rest of the competition.
“Had we lost we would have been chasing and chasing. We won and everything has been in our control.”
This week is about harnessing and directing energy, cooling some temperatures, raising others. Rob Kearney and Rory Best redrawing history with the ‘09 playbook in their pockets and looking for a second Slam.
“The couple of championships we won in ’14 and ’15 were unbelievable,” says Murray. “But this is another level. This is something different.”