LAST FEBRUARY’S CLASH with Scotland at Murrayfield was Conor Murray’s first time to face Ireland’s celtic foes. For 69 minutes he was part of an Ireland team that ram-raided the Scottish defence with precious little in return.
The Scots out-tackled the Irish four-to-one and never threatened the visitors’ tryline but still claimed the win. Murray returned to Murrayfield last month, with Munster, and was on the receiving end of another defeat.
Edinburgh were torn asunder on their return leg, at Thomond Park, and Murray sniped over for a try. Scottish teams are often callow away from home but the scrum-half is expecting Scott Johnson’s men to put up a real fight in Sunday’s Six Nations opener.
“From last year, experience-wise, there are no easy games in the Six Nations,” says Murray. “You might have heard players say that before, just to answer an awkward question but definitely from my experience there are no easy games.
“You saw Scotland during November they pushed a lot of southern hemisphere teams close. Having played against them last year with the defeat, they are a team that can hang in there. If you get your chances you gotta take them. If you don’t convert your chances they will hang in there and they will be there until the end. You’ve got to be really clinical.”
While second-row Richie Gray starts on the Scottish bench, two other players that Murray played with on the Lions tour to Australia will feature in the visiting backline.
They have added a new dimension to their game from being on tour with Stuart (Hogg) and Sean (Maitland). You got to see them up close. They are really threatening runners. They really like to express themselves on the pitch and that gives two dimensions to the Scottish team. They have got a great pack, great at the breakdown and when they want to go wide.
“They are really dangerous particularly on the counter-attack with the likes of Hogg and Sean Maitland, Tim Visser [currently injured] and a number of other back three players they have at their disposal, they are quite dangerous.”
The running threat from Hogg and Maitland became very clear to Murray during line drills and training sessions with the duo.
“From training with them you might see other dimensions of their game you might not have seen in the analysis,” he says. “It can only be a good thing to know your enemy a little bit better.”
Conor Murray and Sean Maitland joking during the Lions Tour. Pic: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
This morning’s session in Maynooth took place in a deluge and Murray called it the worst day’s training so far this year’. “It put the skills under pressure and I thought we trained quite well,” he added. “Our shape looked quite good. If it’s a little bit drier on Sunday we will be in a good place after coming through this morning.”
The big question Ireland must answer this weekend is if they can match the intensity and performance levels that almost did for New Zealand in November. Murray smiled ruefully when the “consistency” was broached.
“That consistency element is definitely a topic of discussion in our camp for a long time now,” he replied. “With Joe [Schmidt] there now we are trying to figure that out and fix it. That was a great performance. We came agonisingly close. We don’t want to dwell on it too much but at the same time we got to look back at it and take the positives that we can take out of it.
“A lot of rugby has been played since then but the last time we were together that is how we played. We want to build on that and improve in certain areas. There is definitely areas of that game where we can improve and hopefully take forward into this Six Nations.”