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Conor Murray: We want to see Johnny Sexton barking at us and taking control of things

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Conor Murray, left, and Jonathan Sexton of Ireland during the Guinness Summer Series match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Conor Murray, left, and Jonathan Sexton of Ireland during the Guinness Summer Series match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Conor Murray, left, and Jonathan Sexton of Ireland during the Guinness Summer Series match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Injuries coupled with a slight dip in form has meant that Ireland supporters haven't seen the best of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton as a partnership in some time.

If ever there were two players for the big stage however, it is Ireland's influential half-backs and the stakes don't get much higher than a World Cup opener against your main pool rivals.

Having carefully used both players throughout pre-season, Joe Schmidt is set to unleash Murray and Sexton against Scotland tomorrow.

The Ireland head coach will be hoping that his meticulous managing of the pair will result in the kind of performance that everyone knows they are capable of delivering.

Sexton's summer was disrupted by a thumb injury early doors and then he picked up a leg problem, which limited his involvement to just the final warm-up game against Wales.

The out-half looked sharp however, as he proved once again that even if he misses a run of games, he still has the ability to turn it on when it matters most.

Murray on the other hand is still trying to recapture his very best form following a neck issue. The Limerick man has shown glimpses of what he is capable of, but the feeling is that there is more to come from Ireland's scrum-half.

As a duo, they are absolutely central to Ireland's hopes in Japan and Murray is relishing to chance to play at a third World Cup with Sexton.

"He’s world player of the year and he’s constantly striving to get better and better," Murray said of Sexton.

"He got a little bit unlucky during the pre season with the thumb and that was quite frustrating from his end.

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"The eight weeks we had were brilliant and he got a little bit of a hiccup there with the thumb that stopped him training as hard as he would like.

"But even when he was out, he was still leading and with an eye to his game and the World Cup. He was still heavily involved in everything we were doing. He was always ready to go. It was just that thumb injury that frustrated him a little bit.

"I know people are always asking about it when they see him barking on the pitch but that’s exactly what you want and what you need from a player like that and someone who is in control of most things on the pitch."

Slow starts have often been Ireland's Achilles' heel. Everyone within the squad knows they cannot afford another one in Yokohama tomorrow.

Throughout the video sessions over the last week, the 2017 defeat at Murrayfield has regularly cropped up, which Murray admits is a warning sign about how dangerous Scotland can be if Ireland are not on it from the get-go.

"They managed to find a lot space out wide," Murray recalled.

"A couple of those clips have come up in our preview, just throughout the years of playing Scotland, the different types of games we’ve been through with them and that’s one that sticks out. Even the games we’ve won, they’re such a dangerous side.

"They missed a couple of opportunities the last time we played them in Murrayfield. We got a few good tries ourselves which kind of gave us a little bit of a stretch on the scoreboard, but they had chances too.

"Like I said, they’re a dangerous side, one that you do not take lightly at all. It’s going to be a massive test."

Expectations around last year's Grand Slam champions have been taken down a notch or two, but given the quality of their squad and the calibre of head coach at the helm, there is genuine belief that Ireland can turn it around.

At yesterday's team announcement, Schmidt admitted that he did feel a sense of anxiety. He wouldn't be human if he didn't. Yet there was a noticeable air of confidence about his demeanour.

"The last year has probably brought us down a little bit in terms where we’re going," Murray added.

"Again, it’s that we’ve been through an awful lot of tough matches, tight moments and we’re just really looking forward to getting out there and just performing at this stage and going to that next level that we know we’re capable of.

"People will talk about knockout stages and all that but Scotland is so big. It’s a really good game to have up first.

"You can feel the everyone’s really focused for it and want to get out put together a really strong performance.

"You’ve seen already with the squad and the people who have missed out through various reasons, injury or whatever so it’s going to be a really tight squad.

"It is a really tight squad that’s been together for a while, we get on really well. We’ve been here for a week or so.

"We’ve enjoyed each other’s company, we’ve enjoyed training together and preparing together. It’s easy at this stage, but it’s going to get tough.

"We’re going to be tested in each game through opposition and ourselves, and finding form and things like that.

"A lot of people know how World Cups go and what to expect in terms of experienced players we have, but it’s really exciting. I’m really excited about this game."


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