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'He still finds stuff to give out to me about, that's just Johnny' -- Conor Murray

The world’s best half-backs get on like a house on fire.

TO WATCH THEM from afar, you could be forgiven for thinking Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton worked in perfect harmony.

Yet, like a swan, there’s a touch of fury underneath the surface to help create that illusion.

Ireland’s nine and 10 have every right to be considered the best half-back axis in rugby. If they’re not, they’ve certainly made a fine fist of their five clashes* (two wins, two losses and a draw) with Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith over the past 13 months.

Beauden Barrett scores a try despite the efforts of Jonathan Sexton (*Sexton didn't start the first Lions Test, and suffered injury in Ireland's clashes in both Chicago and Dublin)

But whatever the outcome of those matches, the very fact that the Munster and Leinster icons have risen to play in tandem for Ireland and then the Lions speaks volumes about how masterful they have become since Declan Kidney first combined them as replacements in a 2011 World Cup warm-up defeat to England.

Preparation windows for internationals are extremely tight, so that six-year track record Murray and Sexton have laid down is a big part in what makes them such an effective duo. Though Murray scoffs at the suggestion that they have built an understanding verging on telepathic.

They do find themselves on different pages now and then.

“Telepathic, yeah. He still finds stuff to give out to me about. Don’t worry about that. That’s just Johnny.“

Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton and Shane Jennings Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Arguments always flow freely between friends. So while Murray may not have the notoriously demanding reputation that Sexton has created, he certainly isn’t slow to bite back at his fellow playmaker.

“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.

I know this guy off the field now too and that definitely makes it easier. You know the way their mind works and what they might be thinking.

“And then you are together so much in training, there is an understanding, and I think it (personal relationship) is in a really good place.

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I enjoy playing with Johnny. Within this environment, he is a real leader along with Bestie and Seanie. It is a good relationship at the moment.”

After both men were given a rest for the mid-series meeting with Fiji, Murray can look forward to reuniting with Sexton for this Saturday’s Test against Argentina.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the last time these sides came face to face was a humbling 2015 World Cup quarter-final.

As one of the handful of players who played that day and will be involved again this weekend, Murray is well-placed to judge the weight that defeat has on the squad this week. The answer, according to the players, is very little.  It might be different if there was a semi-final at stake again.

“It’s like getting knocked out of any tournament. I have semi-finals with Munster in Europe in my head that would gnaw away at me as well and you are just thinking what could have been. Like Toulon or Clermont a few years as well, you’re looking at the fact you could have made it to the final and you don’t know what would have happened then.”

British and Irish Lions's  Conor Murray Jonathan Sexton and Jamie Roberts celebrate after Jonathan Sexton scoresSource: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As Murray and nigh on every Irish player this week also point out, there is a new set of players going into the rivalry. And, crucially, that includes Sexton who belatedly joined Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony on the list of casualties arising out of the costly pool win over France.

Past results are history then. This November series has been all about planning for Ireland’s future. And for Joe Schmidt’s most tried and trusted partnership, that starts on Saturday.

“We’ve been building week on week here and this week is a big opportunity to put down a marker, to put in a really good performance and keep building.

“November is really important, but we’re building for other things as well. That’s the way we view it, so it’s just another chance to play better, put in a better performance than the previous week and keep on building.

“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 each other really and know how to play with each other pretty sharpish.”

On the swan goes.

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