Monday 22 July 2019

Murray: I would relish late penalty to beat England

Conor Murray took part in the Lucozade Sport Conversion Challenge at Grand Canal Dock, Dublin
Conor Murray took part in the Lucozade Sport Conversion Challenge at Grand Canal Dock, Dublin
David Kelly

David Kelly

IRELAND versus England. Eight days' time. Five minutes left. The visitors are nudging a tight battle 9-8 when, improbably, Jonathan Sexton is once again removed from the fray with a nose bloodied by an English aggressor.

Ireland have a penalty, some 40 metres out, a smidgeon to the left; perfect for the boot of the arriving Ian Madigan.

Except, the laws decree that Madigan cannot take the kick; and so all eyes point towards the scrum-half. "All yours Conor," as kicking coach Richie Murphy tosses him the tee.

Conor Murray doesn't hesitate when asked. Would you be comfortable taking the kick that might beat England next weekend?

"Yeah, I'd like it!" he enthuses. "You want to be tested and be pushed to the maximum to see how good you are. It is in those pressure environments where you really see who you are. It is something I would like to find out."


That Murray has never contributed to an international side to defeat England would make the - presumably - winning kick even more of a revelation.

The last time Ireland defeated England, four years ago, the then 21-year-old Murray was a mere Munster Academy member, watching open-mouthed from his couch as Sexton steered his side to glory against the Grand-Slam chasers in white.

"I remember Johnny was under a little bit of pressure from Ronan O'Gara at the time.

"He played really well that day, took that quick tap and put Tommy Bowe over in the corner and kicked really well," Murray recalls.

"England coming to Dublin for a Grand Slam is obviously going to take care of people getting people hyped up for the game. You could see that in the lads that day. They weren't going to lose to England that day.

"There's a similar feeling with a lot of played in the squad that haven't won against England and will bring that to the table on Sunday."

Murray's stunning ascent to international status months later before the 2011 World Cup has been well charted; his frustrating inability to taste success against England less so.

"It's been tough," he admits. "It's hard when you haven't experienced a win against them over the last four or five years. I know how tough it's going to be next Sunday. It's going to be an extremely physical game.

"For me and a few others who have never won against England, it would be a huge thing.

"Not just beating England alone, but in terms of this Championship it could make us three out of three and in a really good position.

"People are talking about Championships and Grand Slams already, but after the game last Saturday we said it's only one game at a time and we can't look past that. But England is a huge challenge for us and if we come through it'll be a great feeling."

With their ceaseless work-rate, superb conditioning and utter doggedness on the ground and in the white wall of defence, this England team has consistently proved the toughest nut to crack for Ireland in recent times; even last year, they smothered the Irish at Twickenham despite the visitors' sprint into an encouraging early lead.

"From last year especially they just seemed really hard to break down," agrees Murray. "They seemed to keep a lot of men on their feet when you have the ball.

"And they attack your breakdown. They can slow it down and make things really difficult for you.

"That's a challenge for us. When we have possession and create that quick ruck-speed we can play on the front foot, which is what makes any team dangerous.

"Defensively they're really good. They come off their line and make their hits and they muddy the ruck and make things really hard to play off.

"The breakdown is what wins games. Defence is huge as well, but the breakdown decides who well you play and attack so that's a huge issue for us going next week, making our own ruck-ball quite quick."


Unusually, for a squad who always profess to be submerged within a bubble, Joe Schmidt has already mentioned the fact that Ireland could emulate an Irish international record - a 10-game winning streak achieved in 2003.

"Joe mentioned it during the week, that it is there for the taking, but I think for us at the moment there's a bigger prize of beating England and staying alive in this competition," says Murray.

"And then after that you look at these type of records."

Nonetheless, records are nice to have. Take his goal-kicking stats - "two from two!", Murray boasts proudly of his six-point haul against Edinburgh last season.

He won't do a Mario Balotelli and seize the chance; neither will he refuse it.

"If it happens I am ready to take a kick. I might as well be prepared for a moment that could possibly happen."

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