‘When it is needed, Conor Murray goes up another level’

Ireland scrumhalf shows he is outstanding all-rounder in victory over All Blacks

Flashes of Conor Murray in a game that can never be forgotten. Dominant in the face of the game's best scrumhalves, the spooked Aaron Smith and the electric TJ Perenara.

32 minutes: Johnny Sexton launches a garryowen just inside the New Zealand half. Beauden Barrett and Simon Zebo look up, hesitating. A bouncing ball transports us back the 1980s. Hands, arms flailing at oval leather.

Murray grasps it. Rory Best plays scrumhalf until he regains equilibrium. Always in control, he switches to the short side where Zebo glides before feeding Sexton who Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo envelope to deny an offload.

No problem. Murray changes the point of attack again, knowing hard yards are still needed. There is a plan here, straight from Joe Schmidt’s analysis playbook.


Reverse pass

Stooping over the ball Murray glances for the reverse pass. Smith’s eyes go with him. The fix is in.

The struggling All Black, perhaps spooked by off-field indiscretions of late, is nothing like his usual self. No matter.

Murray has already made up his mind. Smith is a sloppy defender at pillar. Schmidt knew this, so Murray did too. A dummy and gone. Owen Franks has to move around CJ Stander (arms up, excuse me) so Murray gets a clean fend on the prop.

Away, try.

“That’s the man,” said Stander. “That’s what I know about Conor Murray, he steps up when it is needed, when everyone is looking at him he goes up another level. Murray showed a lot of leadership on the pitch.”

Dominance. 23-8. Sexton is down, nursing his calf. Up he gets. 25-8.

Even when Murray kicked poorly, it seemed, at least once, as cover to allow Sexton recover from cramping, horrid calves.

58 minutes: 30-22. Ireland penalty. Sexton is struggling, again. Done.

Mathieu Raynal will not allow time for the cramp to subside. Murray puts all that kicking practice to some use. 33-22.

74 minutes: Ireland lead by four precious points. Murray feeds an Irish scrum on their 10 metre line. Joey Carbery to Jared Payne. The Kiwi calmly skip-passes to Zebo, who punts.

A foot race: Zebo inching closer to Fekitoa with each stride. Henshaw eating up grass, grabs the back-tracking centre just as he hospital passes to Savea. “The Bus” is forced into his in-goal where Murray appears, where he had no right to be, where it required more ground to be covered than these sprinting weapons.

He rams the bus off the road.

"Not often Julian Savea gets hit like that," yells Justin Marshall on New Zealand television.

Stander almost purrs when asked to talk about the moment that confirmed it all, when Savea fell hard and out of bounds.

“It shows you: if you look at Murray’s games, he is a physical man. He is big for a nine. That’s what makes him world class. To stop a guy like that, he could have scored a 100-metre try, to stop him I think he saved our skins there.”

Five-metre scrum to Ireland. Murray feeds. They unroll the Henshaw move Schmidt wanted to use against South Africa. Jamie Heaslip picks, instantly drawing Aaron Cruden and Ardie Savea before a simple switch pass. Ardie is in no man's land – two brothers played with two brothers in the historic defeat so imagine their collective loss – as Henshaw brings Sam Cane and Perenara over the line with him.

Distribution skills

This minor Cane contribution is significant. He is wearing Richie’s number now. McCaw is away with the wind. Cane had emptied Henshaw off the ball not an hour earlier. Henshaw bites back.

But Murray was the man in control.

“I wouldn’t say it was an armchair ride for Conor but he had some fantastic ball early in the game and with his distribution skills he made the most of that,” Schmidt observed in that stick-to-the-message, trust- the-formula Messianic trance-like reaction.

“He is very much an all-round player, his kicking ability, so with the try he scored where he had to dash 20 metres, stepped inside one player, got a fend on the other to get away to score.

“His kick-chase when he made a real thudding tackle to make sure the All Blacks were tracked in their own end goal, there were so many highlights to what he delivered in the game. Those are all aspects of an all-round capability as a top-notch scrumhalf.”

Top notch.