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Murray not willing to throw box-kick away just yet

The scrum-half took on the skill just twice last weekend, but isn’t willing to sound its death knell.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

MODERN POLITICS IS built on memorable three-word slogans. And the people who know how to shape perspectives and influence swathes of people are those who are successful at finding the trigger words that hit home.

Time For Change, said Sinn Fein before the old firm of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail joined forces this year. 

Take Back Control. Get Brexit Done. Lock Her Up. Yes We Can. Build Back Better. No More Malarkey(?).

England head coach Eddie Jones knew how to use the formula to his advantage when his double Grand Slam-chasing team were going to Dublin in 2017. His cutting appraisal of Ireland’s propensity to put the ball in the air and athletically contest for possession boiled the finely-tuned tactic down to ‘kick and clap’.

Obviously, that didn’t put Ireland far enough off their game to thwart Joe Schmidt’s side that St Patrick’s weekend. But the indictment was still hard to shake off. And when the winning run came to an end and the World Cup went the way World Cups do for Ireland, the box-kick became the worst symptom of Irish rugby ills.

Eight months on from Andy Farrell’s first defeat as Ireland head coach in Twickenham, the good times were rolling again last Saturday. There was offloading, there was counter-attacking rugby and there were jaws picked off the floor at the number beside Conor Murray’s box-kick attempts.

A measly two.

“The box kick is a team thing,” says Murray when a mock eulogy is read for a skill that has been a key point of difference for him over the past decade.

He accepts that the team has leaned on it a little too much in times past.

“It’s not just the 9 deciding he’s going to kick it in the air and hope for the best. It’s generally a team philosophy. We had time to look back on a few previous games and maybe we over-relied on it a bit.

“And if you’re doing it all the time and then don’t get possession back, it doesn’t look great.

“We’re not obsessed with that, we’re looking to expand our game, grow it and part of that was sharing the kicking load at the weekend.

“I thought we kicked on the front foot rather than potentially slowing things down and going to the previous routine of a box kick and setting up a ruck.”

While too many aerials were put up in the middle third by Ireland in the past, Murray’s higher kicks came to help Ireland exit last weekend. Jacob Stockdale’s big boot was also used to good effect for field position and the boot was not spared when Ireland sought to use a varied game in attack.

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Playing away to France may well require a little more conservatism, but Ireland have posted a signal of intent that they are actively seeking out other avenues.

“At the weekend the weather was great, we had a dry ball. It was free-flowing for the majority of it. Looking at the game (tomorrow), it could be wet it could be windy. You just don’t know.

Whatever presents itself, you’d hope we can adapt on the day and play the effective game we want to play.

“That could be a number of ways, if you’re asking is there one type of gameplan we’re going over with, the answer is no.  We’ve to wait and see what they’re trying to do in the first 10

conor-murray-box-kicks Source: Alex Davidson/INPHO

minutes, what kind of line-speed et cetera.

“There’s a lot of unknown, but we’re trying to prepare as best we can for certain scenarios that might pop up. At the end of the Day, that’s what professional rugby is about; adapting to the pictures in front of you.”

France are capable of drawing pretty pictures indeed. Their pack will make it far more difficult for Ireland to operate on the front foot as they did against the Azzurri. And every Irish player put behind a microphone has warned of the danger their back-line can pose if they find themselves through a gap.

There’s an old school two-word phrase that’s inescapable when it comes to this group of Les Bleus.

“It’s the French flair,” says Murray,  always a threat, always a danger with them.

“We’ve had success against them in recent times, but over the past year or so they’ve been growing, getting much stronger as a unit. They’re a lot harder to break down. But I think the constant is that flair.

“If they get in behind you, get that offloading game going then they can be really dangerous and you can end up chasing shadows.”

And if you find yourself doing that, up against a French team with momentum on a Saturday night in Paris, the only three-word phrase that might come to mind is Up Shit Creek.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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