Wednesday 21 March 2018

Irish decision-making under the microscope after Johannesburg collapse

Murray admits review ‘not pretty’ but insists series can be won

Conor Murray has plenty to think about ahead of Saturday’s deciding Test in Port Elizabeth. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray has plenty to think about ahead of Saturday’s deciding Test in Port Elizabeth. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Decisions, decisions.

Calls that were made on and off the field at Ellis Park last Saturday were up for discussion at Ireland's new team base yesterday as the squad and management picked through the bones of that harrowing last half-hour when their 16-point lead became a six-point defeat.

Joe Schmidt went on the defensive in an in-house interview as he responded to criticism about his hesitancy to turn to his bench as the South African replacements tore things up, but one imagines he was on the offensive in the video room as he took his players to task on their retreat into their shells in the closing quarter.

Conor Murray conceded that the review hadn't been pretty when he fronted up for the press, and that was before the full debrief had got under way.

Nobody is exempt from criticism and the scrum-half put his hand up for two key moments he was involved in as the blame was spread around the side.

Yesterday morning, the players went for a dip in the Indian Ocean to assist with recovery and by the end of the day Schmidt will have hoped that the disappointment and frustration will have washed away.

There is no room for anything other than blind focus if they are to finish the job at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium this Saturday. They will need to be better in the final quarter than they were in Johannesburg.

Although the players have refused to blame the altitude, it had to have been a factor, and the return to sea level will surely help them this week.

Schmidt doesn't go through the tape in such fine detail just for the sake of it: he wants his team to learn from their mistakes and to stop them from happening again.

Yet he will also look at his own role in Ireland's loss, particularly the sight of clearly fatigued players soaking and missing tackles.

Might he have turned to his subs?

"The first place you go to the bench is the front-row, but the scrum was dominating, then as soon as you start playing around with the scrum. . . and then a few of the bench players came on and turned the ball over and missed tackles, so you're a little bit loath to put other bench players on," he said.

"Some of the most important players in keeping your structure are the ones you want to keep in place, so it's never as simple as just putting players on and saying 'he'll freshen things up'.

"You're always looking at the players who are on there and the feedback we were getting was that they were okay and that they could keep going.

"Once we got messages that they were starting to fade then we tried to work through the bench.

"But they'd earned the lead that we had and it's hard to then take them away, and some of the players that did come off when we had a 16-point lead, they'll look back on the game now and they'd have their own frustrations."

One of those 'important players' is Murray, who uncharacteristically slipped off a tackle on Damian de Allende for South Africa's winning try on Saturday. Perhaps more crucially, however, was his decision to kick possession away on 51 minutes when Ireland were in a good attacking position in the Springbok half as they protected that 16-point lead.

After a couple of close-in carries, Murray box-kicked to Ruan Combrinck and, within minutes, the comeback had begun. Might it have been better to keep the ball and sustain the attack?

"There are certain plays that we have in our locker, and certain things we go to at certain times in the game, and that's probably down to myself and Paddy (Jackson), Rory (Best) and Jamie (Heaslip), fellas like that," he explained of the thought process.


"That's the play we went with. And we hadn't had the ball for a while and maybe looking back - hindsight is wonderful - but we probably should have kept hold of the ball there.

"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."

Robbie Henshaw has flown back to Dublin to consult with a surgeon on his knee injury, but all of the other 31 touring players should be available to Schmidt this weekend as CJ Stander returns.

It may be week 52 of his season, but Murray sees no reason why Ireland can't learn from last week, make better decisions and win in Port Elizabeth.

"There's 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," he said.

"It's an exciting week, we still have a chance of winning a series in South Africa. 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."

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport