Sexton 'angry' and Murray 'frustrated' after stuttering Ireland display

Joe Schmidt warned that ‘there’s a real danger when you start trying too hard.’

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadio Olimpico, Rome

THE FINISH FOR Ireland’s fourth try was more like the Conor Murray that Ireland fans know and love.

Cool and composed, the scrum-half controlled the ball at the back of a powerful Irish maul and then used his power to make the final metres, stretching out to secure a crucial bonus point for Joe Schmidt’s team.

There were some good kicks from Murray in Rome too, as Ireland won 26-16, but the errors from the Munster man grabbed far more of the attention.

Tadhg Furlong and Conor Murray after been replaced Murray watches the closing minutes from the Ireland bench. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

It’s clear that the 29-year-old is still well short of his best form after being sidelined for the opening months of the season with a shoulder/neck issue.

Murray is almost a victim of his past excellence for Ireland, the expectation being that he will deliver world-class performances every time, but there’s no doubting that a large section of Ireland fans are now worried about the Limerick man’s form.

Schmidt, for his part, understands that Murray is not yet at his best but remains hopeful that confidence will come.

“Conor is frustrated,” said Schmidt post-match in Rome. “He felt there should have been a decision made when the ball gets taken off him [by Tito Tebaldi before Italy's second try] and I haven’t really looked at it to know.

“And then he’s grumpy and then there’s a real danger when you start trying too hard. And when you start trying too hard you tend to create pressure on yourself and then you don’t play well.

“You play best when your confidence is good, you have a sense of responsibility and then you combine the two to be fluent in what you’re delivering.

“I think Conor is still trying to find his feet. There’s a bit of a risk for Conor that he tries too hard.

“He’s frustrated that it’s not the smooth running machine that he normally is, he’s obviously frustrated to get pick-pocketed. He felt that the player was offside, but you can feel whatever you like – it is the game and you’ve got to get back into the game and you can’t let somebody have the ball when it’s in your hands.

Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray and Tadhg Furlong after the game Sexton and Murray at the final whistle. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“So, he’s frustrated about a few things. I thought he kicked some really nice kicks today and on the back of that, I’m hoping that he gets his confidence back.

“I think he’s going to keep building, France [in two weekends' time in Dublin] will be another opportunity for him all things being equal.”

Murray’s halfback partner, Johnny Sexton, cut an equally frustrated figure for Ireland, particularly when he was replaced by Jack Carty in the 78th minute. 

Sexton left the pitch muttering angrily and kicked out at something on the ground.

“I think Johnny was a bit angry when he came off because he’d just been hit three times off the ball,” said Schmidt.

“I’m not saying any of it was illegal. I think they’re well-timed challenges, some of them, and he gets that every week. But he felt a degree of frustration about that.”

Schmidt stressed again that Sexton won’t be taking himself out of the firing line, nor do Ireland want him to.

“He’s got to be the hub where he does play the game,” said Schmidt. “If he drops out of that hub position, I think he did a bit… it was his first game back for a long time in the England game where he wasn’t in that hub position and we suffered a bit as a result.

“I think when he’s in there he does allow us to get a little more organisation and his decision-making is usually spot on.

Jonathan Sexton after the game Sexton was angry as he left the pitch. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“He conducts the orchestra really well. If he’s not in that position then you can’t have that conductor out the back of the orchestra where no-one can see them.”

Murray took over the place-kicking duties from Sexton in the first half, but Schmidt said there was no injury to worry about.

“He [Sexton] just got a bump when I think the same guy got him twice in a row and it just looked like he was looking for him and fair play to him, he got him,” said Schmidt. “So he was a bit sore.”

Meanwhile, the Ireland boss said Bundee Aki was withdrawn due to Ireland’s medical team having concerns over the centre’s head injury in the first half.

“He was withdrawn because of an HIA. While he did everything in the HIA no problem, because the medics felt that he wasn’t presenting on the pitch, even though he got involved in play post the actual incident, they felt he wasn’t in the right condition to continue, so we’re always going to err on the side of caution and that’s what we did.

“Bundee is already tapping me on the shoulder saying can he play for Connacht next weekend because he didn’t get enough of a game today, so he is very, very keen to immediately get the boots back on and play again.”

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