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Billy Stickland/INPHO Murray under the watchful eye of Murphy at training today.
# 6 Nations
Team-mates can ease pressure on Murray while he rediscovers best form - Murphy
The skills coach also feels Johnny Sexton will continue to play his game, despite the inherent injury threat it brings.

IRELAND SKILLS COACH Richie Murphy backs Conor Murray to return to the peak of his powers, with a little help from his Ireland team-mates.

While Ireland’s stuttering start to the Six Nations campaign is collective issue, the star scrum-half has struggled to deliver his best form and has been noticeably off-colour with his ordinarily flawless kicking game.

Ireland’s win over Scotland in Murrayfield last time out in the Six Nations was Murray’s eighth start (10th appearance) since returning to rugby after a stint sidelined with a neck injury.

Murphy believes that late start to Murray’s season has contributed to his struggle.

“He is progressing well,” Murphy said at Ireland’s Maynooth training base today, “a late start to the season is actually quite difficult for a lot of players and Conor is no different.

“Everyone around him can make things much easier for him, take the pressure off him and try to get him into the place everyone knows he is a world class player. The thing is to try and get him back into that, where he is feeling good about himself and players around him are taking pressure off.”

A clean bill of health through Ireland’s squad after today’s training session will help to ensure the load is shared around the squad. Murray’s provincial team-mates Chris Farrell and Tadhg Beirne are in contention to face Italy in Rome on Sunday, while Robbie Henshaw has also been ruled fit and so could return to either centre or fullback.

Jonathan Sexton Billy Stickland / INPHO Sexton in training at Carton House today. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Jonathan Sexton’s failed HIA was crossed off as a concern by Ireland last week, so he could be first up to take some game management responsibility off Murray’s desk.

Sexton’s style of play was under the microscope after his injury against Scotland, as it was the latest of innumerable cases when the out-half has carried to the line, releasing his pass only when his tackler is fully committed to give the receiver the best chance of breaking the line.

Murphy admits that Sexton’s style of play brings him onto a tightrope of sorts, as he tempts in crunching tackles for the benefit of the team.

“Obviously we don’t want him off the pitch, but there is definitely a fine line between what is fair and what isn’t fair. As long as the referees are able to judge that and decide that, Johnny is not going to change the way he plays.

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Jacob Stockdale breaks away for a try as Johnny Sexton gets tackled by Allan Dell Dan Sheridan / INPHO Stockdlae breaks clear for his try while Sexton is smashed. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Murphy adds: “If he changes, he is not the same player he was. He doesn’t create the same holes for players that he creates for other people. Then there is no point in having him. It’s a two-fold thing really. The idea of him changing his game so that he can stay on the pitch doesn’t really fit.

He needs to play the game he feels is best. He is a confrontational type of character, he wants to play on the gainline. He wants to create space for others. I can’t see that changing.”

“He’s going to play the game the way he has done for the last number of years. That’s part of what made him World Player of the Year. If it brings him to that level, I can’t see him going away from that.”

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