Conor Murray’s Rolls-Royce show drives gutsy Irish

Conor Murray’s Rolls-Royce show drives gutsy Irish

Perhaps mindful of what it would indirectly say about his other options at No 10, Joe Schmidt chose to sidestep the question. 

“Not unduly,” the Ireland head coach shrugged when asked whether he felt Conor Murray was more ‘comfortable’ at scrum-half with Jonathan Sexton outside him. “I think Conor is pretty much his own man. Whether it’s Paddy Jackson at fly-half, or Johnny, or – as it was during November – Joey Carberry, he is very easy to play with for any of those players because he gives you time and space on the ball. 

“He’s a superb passer of the ball. And he takes his own responsibilities when you ask it of him. If you need a box kick or you want something slid down the touchline, as we saw in the last 10 minutes, to carve out 45 metres and give us a platform…” 

Schmidt was fooling no one. Murray’s man-of-the-match performance against France on Saturday, in which he scored Ireland’s only try, was a return to his fizzing best. A menace around the fringes, accurate with his kicks, shrewd in defence, L’Equipe called his a “Rolls-Royce” performance, describing him as the “complete No 9” and awarding him an eight in their famously stingy match ratings.

Intriguingly, the statistics do not actually demonstrate inconclusively that Ireland perform better with Murray and Sexton in tandem. The two have played together 37 times, winning 57 per cent of those matches. When only one of them starts that percentage drops to 47, which backs up the thesis. But then with both of them out they have won eight from eight, although perhaps that is more a reflection of the types of games they are allowed to miss.

Either way, there is little doubt that Murray, not naturally one of the yappiest of scrum-halves, looks more at ease with the extremely vocal Sexton outside him. It is a partnership, now that Sexton is fit and firing again, which could yet propel Ireland to this year’s Six Nations title. And one Murray was happy to expand upon afterwards.

“He gives a lot,” Murray conceded of Sexton’s return from five weeks out with a calf strain. “He gives a massive amount to the team, He’s the one who drives a lot of what we do. He’s worked with Joe a long, long time, so that experience is invaluable.

“I think for me playing with him, we’ve gotten to know each other really well. We’ve played, I think, over 30 times now, and you just know their habits a little bit better. I’ve played a good bit with Paddy as well. It’s just about developing those relationships. And Johnny’s world class, so having someone like him, plain and simple, is really good for your team…”

He added that he was not surprised that Sexton, who grew more and more influential as the match wore on, kicking a dropped goal in the second half before departing to a standing ovation, was straight back into the groove.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I’ve been playing with him long enough now to know when he’s ready, you know by him in training during the week how he’s going to go. I thought he slotted in really well and that drop goal relieved a bit of pressure on us and it was great.

“He’s been in camp with us since the start of this campaign anyway, so he’s been around the group for the last month or so and he’s been in all our meetings. He knows what’s going on and is a great fella to come and play with us.

“I think you can’t mention him without mentioning Paddy. Paddy has done an awesome job and he came on today and did really well as well so we’ve too really, really strong out-half options.” 

With all eyes now on next Friday’s clash in Cardiff, Murray conceded Ireland would be wary of a backlash from a wounded Welsh team beneath the Millennium Stadium floodlights – and potentially the roof.

But he warned, too, that Ireland still had a good few gears left in them and were enjoying being once again in “control” of their championship hopes, with victory over Wales guaranteeing them a crack at the title in their final game against England on March 18 in Dublin. It promises to be a quiet St Patrick’s weekend.

“To win against a French team that is a lot better than the French teams of the last few years is good. It was a gutsy performance,” Murray said. “But we can go a lot better, yeah.” With Sexton back outside him, Ireland’s Rolls-Royce is motoring once again.

Match details

Scores: 0-3 Lopez pen; 0-6 Lopez pen; 5-6 Murray try; 7-6 Sexton con; 10-6 Sexton pen; 13-6 Sexton drop; 16-6 Sexton pen; 16-9 Lopez pen; 19-9 Jackson pen. 

Ireland: R Kearney (A Trimble 51); K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton (P Jackson 68), C Murray (K Marmion 78); J McGrath (C Healy 60), R Best (capt) (N Scannell 67), T Furlong (J Ryan 73); D Ryan (I Henderson 60), D Toner; CJ Stander, S O’Brien (P O’Mahony 67), J Heaslip.
France: S Spedding (D Camara 74); N Nakaitaci, R Lamerat (H Chavancy 60) G Fickou, Y Huget; C Lopez, B Serin (M Machenaud 62); C Baille (E Ben Arous 51), G Guirado (capt) (C Tolofua 62), R Slimani (U Atonio 51), S Vahaamahina (J Ledevedec 51), Y Maestri; B Le Roux (C Ollivon 60), K Gourdon, L Picamoles.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
Assistant referees: L Pearce (England), L Pearce (England).
TMO: G Ayoub (Australia).

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