Friday 14 December 2018

Winning a trophy would take heat off us - Conor Murray

Conor Murray is calling on his Munster team-mates to be ready from the start against Edinburgh in tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final qualifier. Photo: INPHO
Conor Murray is calling on his Munster team-mates to be ready from the start against Edinburgh in tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final qualifier. Photo: INPHO
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

More than any other province, Munster define themselves by their European performance and their semi-final exit 12 days ago will sting for some time yet.

Since the long, lingering lap of honour to thank the legion of fans who travelled to Bordeaux for the clash with Racing, the squad have been reliving the loss in their heads.

Yet they still have a chance to win a trophy this month and Conor Murray is wary of lingering on the defeat for too long lest they let this opportunity slip through their grasp.

Tomorrow, they face Edinburgh at Thomond Park in the first play-off round of the PRO14 finals series with a semi-final against Leinster the prize for the winners.

Given they will be coming off the back of the Champions Cup final, Munster will hope to catch their bitter rivals cold to book a second successive final appearance.

Murray was part of the last team to win the Celtic League in 2011 and is desperate to add some provincial success to his international honours.

And while he has dwelled on the loss to Racing 92, he hopes that the team can channel their disappointment into a performance against the Scots to release some of the pressure on their shoulders.

"There is," he said when asked if there was a danger of a European hangover.

"We put a lot of pressure on getting into a European final and winning that, so again it's probably down to an individual thing - how you deal with it yourself and how you pitch up on Saturday.

Weak

"Johann (van Graan) and the coaching staff have gone through it, we've reviewed the game, we've looked at why we lost it, we've trained in the areas we thought were weak and tried to fix that, and hopefully we have done on this coming Saturday. He's got the team in a good place.

"In a way we probably need (to win the PRO14) because if we go another year without a trophy it just builds that pressure again, and that's the bold facts of it.

"Yeah, that's in the back of our minds.

"Since the Racing game all we've wanted to do is perform this weekend, as close as we can to our potential.

"Edinburgh are on an unbelievable run, beating all the Irish provinces, they're a force to be reckoned with.

"But we just want to show everyone how we can perform, and get rid of that Racing game - then to end with a trophy would take a bit of heat off."

For all they are, to use Van Graan's favourite phrase, going back to zero there are lingering regrets about the game in France a fortnight ago when a slow start and some excellent Racing attacking left them with too much to do.

"People were asking what was the reason, we reviewed it and it was just one or two individual errors that we switched off for and suddenly they score three tries," he said.

"Teddy Thomas, he should have scored three but he gave one to (Maxime) Machenaud.

"It just gave us too much to do, it was one of the more frustrating semi-finals, we've been in a few now.

"What we put in to get to this one, to not perform is the most frustrating thing.

"That wasn't us in the first 20 (minutes), we were on the back foot from then on.

"I would have loved to have played a semi where we played well, us close to our potential and Racing close to their potential and see who would have won.

"Racing are a really good side but we didn't perform and we don't know where we would have gone had we started well and played well. So that's what's going to be in the head for a long while."

They need to channel that frustration into a performance against an Edinburgh team who come into the play-off match in good form.

Strongly

Starting strongly is the main focus.

"It's been at us for a couple of weeks that we started slow and it's really hard to pinpoint (why). The Racing game was individual," he said.

"As much as we want to stay as a collective team - I slipped up on tackle and let (Virimi) Vakatawa through - just you've got to be in the right frame of mind and ready for a game.

"In knockout rugby, Europe especially and this weekend, you can't start slow, you can't feel your way into the game be down by a few scores and come back and win a game.

"A lot of it is down to which individual shows up on the day.

"We do our best to be ready as a collective team and be ready across the board but a certain amount of responsibility has to come down to you as a player and that's something I want to change this weekend, be ready, you can't warm into to a game like that.

"We haven't changed a thing. I don't think we need to.

"It's been addressed. We've looked at the clips, the black and white reasons why we lost the game and that's been addressed.

"We've been doing so well for so long, or the majority of the season, that it's worked for us. It's just a minor thing, a minor mindset thing in a few fellas' heads, and other than that we've been going really well.

"We've been going so well that had we won that game, we'd still be going really well, and now the fact that we've lost a game that's just the way it is in rugby in Ireland, that people start questioning you straight away.

"Our task is just to ignore that and remember how good a side we are, and go out and play this weekend."

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