Monday 23 October 2017

Murray injury a huge blow to Irish hopes

Experience and physicality of Munster No 9 will be badly missed plans to slay the old enemy

Joe Schmidt will be desperately disappointed to be without Conor Murray. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Joe Schmidt will be desperately disappointed to be without Conor Murray. Photo: SPORTSFILE

David Wallace

It was an intriguing Test match in Cardiff last weekend, and I expect more of the same when Ireland host England at Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

The ramifications mightn't be there - England secured the Championship last weekend. But they are still going for the Grand Slam and the world record of international victories, and I'm sure the Irish won't let them do that so easily in Dublin.

Significantly, Conor Murray is out for this game due to the shoulder injury he picked up against Wales, and this will be a big test of Kieran Marmion. I think Ireland will miss the experience and physicality of the Munster man in that position.

But at least they will be prepared for him not being there all week. Marmion actually did quite well against Wales, and this is a huge opportunity for him, one that he has been waiting for.

Things didn't go to plan for Ireland last weekend - they came up against a pumped-up Welsh side and didn't score when the chances were there. The Welsh scramble defence, and work-rate kept the Irish from scoring tries. And you could see Shaun Edwards was looking to prove a point.

You have to hand it to the Welsh coaching staff and the players. Wales physically matched Ireland. There was a lot of talk before the game that they weren't going to be able to compete with the Irish back-row - that threw down the gauntlet.

Test matches are about being clinical and taking chances when they are there. Of course the disruption of Johnny Sexton's few knocks, and then the sin-binning, really disrupted Ireland's flow.

Ireland were getting great change from pressurising the Welsh back-field with high balls which they weren't coping well with. That part of Ireland's game seemed to disappear for the ten minutes either side of half-time, when Murray was injured as well.

Distractions like that halfway tough a game could upset any side, but especially Ireland when their half-back pairing are so vital. So it's to Ireland's credit, they didn't play poorly either. Those ten points they conceded with Sexton in the bin had a massive bearing on the game. This was the period where Paddy Jackson rushed up in defence, which cost them George North's second try.

Disconnect

I wouldn't put all of the blame on him either, there was disconnect in the line. But it worked well for them earlier in reading that pass and intercepting Dan Biggar time and again - I have seen that done in such regularity.

Ireland's line-speed was exemplary and they were really punishing Wales. Possibly that's what Jackson was doing at the time, trying to get up in that defensive tactic. Unfortunately, though, they didn't stop the ball and the lack of line-integrity was exploited by Wales.

Historically, Wales always raise their game a bit when they play Ireland or England, and after beating the three southern hemisphere teams last year, Ireland are up there now to be knocked down. Conversely England are going for the record this weekend, and they are the team to beat now, which plays into Ireland's hands.

You hope that England have got that good game out of their system and they are on a high. I thought Scotland might have put it up to them, but it's not a bad thing that they have had such an easy win over them.

From an Irish point of view, you would hope that England could be coming over a little bit complacent. But they will go into this match extremely focused, but Ireland will be a dangerous animal like Wales were last weekend.

With a big English team coming over, whether a club or national team, the Irish sides are usually underdogs and tend to raise their game massively. I have no doubt this game won't be any different.

It is a very good English team and I am sure they will try and show that at the weekend. They have improved a lot as a squad since the start of the Championship, with big names like Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson returning. Their firepower has improved.

It's all going to be about attitude and it will be a fascinating encounter.

Irish Independent

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