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'We have to believe we can do it. I know we can' - Murray confident ahead of series decider

The Ireland scrum-half admits the video review sessions have been painful but insists the squad are desperate to end their season on a high.

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray.
Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“THIS IS YOUR f***ing Everest, boys. Very few ever get a chance in rugby terms to get to the top of Everest. You have the chance today.”

Those were the words of Jim Telfer which inspired the British and Irish Lions to a series victory on Springbok soil almost 20 years ago. Ian McGeechan’s class of 1997 were the last side to win a three-Test series in this part of the world. It shows the scale of Ireland’s task this Saturday.

Conor Murray has been ever-present during this campaign and was on the pitch to witness the Boks overturn a 16-p0int deficit, twice, to seal a stunning 32-26 victory and level the series.

Fatigue, inexperience, nerves and the oxygen deficit at high altitude have all been offered as explanations for that final-quarter collapse in Johannesburg.

“No, genuinely, being honest, I didn’t feel anything like that,” said the Munster scrum-half.

“I know if you look at our performance, we probably looked as if we faded but it wasn’t due to fatigue or fitness levels.

We actually ended up standing off the South Africans a little bit and soaking a few tackles which gave them front-foot ball and allowed them get into their rhythm and into their front-foot game which they like to play.

“Personally I didn’t feel any different. I felt really fit out there.

“People will probably raise that question: did we fade or did the altitude get to us? I don’t think we can use that as an excuse. We were at altitude but we weren’t that high up. I don’t think it made a massive impact on anyone really.”

When Jamie Heaslip rumbled over for Ireland’s second try in the 59th minute at Ellis Park, it looked like a third consecutive win against the Springboks and the series was within their grasp.

But then came the Bok surge as the Irish challenge wilted. Two days after that frantic encounter, Murray was still trying to get his head around it all.

“Yeah, we were 19-3 ahead at half-time and in a really good place and sometimes when that happens, do you stand off it or do you try to protect that lead?

“We said it at half time and the coaches said it — we wanted to go out and play and take the game to them.

“We just didn’t seem to have that many platforms to do that off. We’d a couple of scrums and a couple of lineouts that we didn’t execute properly and then we just struggled to get into the game.

“Did we get nervous? I’m not too sure. I don’t think so. I just think we didn’t have the platform and then they started to gain momentum and we started standing off them and soaking tackles and they got on to that front foot pretty easily. So we had our unit review there and we have our team review in a while.

“We’ve all been looking at the game. Parts of it aren’t that pretty but we all have to look at it and learn from it so having watched it myself, there are definitely things we can fix.

“We made certain areas pretty hard for ourselves, where they countered really well — as much down to our organisation and kick-chase.

It’s an exciting week, we still have a chance of winning a series in South Africa, being 19-3 up at half time, we have to believe we can do it. I know we can.

“The reviews aren’t pretty but we’ve got to get through them and build a buzz for the game on Saturday.”

Ireland’s Richardt Strauss is tackled by/ Springboks Warren Whiteley and Siya Kolisi Ireland’s Richardt Strauss is tackled by Springboks Warren Whiteley and Siya Kolisi. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

That final 20 minutes will not have been easy viewing for the Irish squad during their video review session yesterday. Murray will not have enjoyed watching that missed tackle which allowed Damian de Allende to power through for the match-winning try at Ellis Park.

To his credit, Murray has been outstanding during this series and has pulled off a number of last-ditch tackles to keep the Boks at bay over the past few weekends, his chop tackle on a rampaging Duane Vermuelen during the dying moments of the first half at Newlands springs to mind.

“Yeah, I actually went for a chop, I went low, and he carried the ball quite low anyway, and I think I hit his arm and the ball, and bounced off him and didn’t finish my tackle. So yeah, that’s up to me,” Murray explained.

“That’s completely my fault. Like I said, the reviews haven’t been pretty.

“There’ll be a few demons this week but at least it’s not the end of the season. We get a chance to fix it this week, so that’s something I’ve got to get out of my head and fix this week.”

Sonny Bill Williams scores a try Sonny Bill Williams touches down against Ireland in Hamilton four years ago. Source: Simon Watts

Four years ago, Ireland were gearing up for the final clash of a three-Test series against the All Blacks having pushed them all the way in a dramatic defeat in Christchurch, which required a late Dan Carter drop goal to snatch victory.

What followed was a horror-show in Hamilton as a weary and injury-ravaged Irish side shipped 60 unanswered points. Murray was there that night in Waikato Stadium, but insists the harsh lessons of the past have been learned.

“Yeah, I think it is our last game of the season and sometimes when the southern hemisphere teams come to us in November and it’s their last game you can sense them getting tired for the last game so I don’t think we are.

We’re raring to go. I think we’re really angry at ourselves. Personally and as a group, I think we left a lot out there and we could have snatched it at the weekend so I think there’s such motivation there, genuinely.

“There’s massive motivation, there’s no danger of us looking beyond this game, looking to our holidays.

“This a chance at history, it would have been unbelievable to have won at Ellis Park and it was very disappointing the way it ended but we’ve got a chance now to win a series in South Africa which is very, very difficult and very, very rare.

“I can assure you everyone is looking at that and no further.”

For this Irish team, the summit is in sight, but it will take one hell of an 80-minute performance to get there.

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