Friday 20 April 2018

There's no fear factor in how we play, insists Murphy

Ireland's kicking coach Richie Murphy remains optimistic despite one point from three games (SPORTSFILE)
Ireland's kicking coach Richie Murphy remains optimistic despite one point from three games (SPORTSFILE)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

During the days that followed Ireland's desperately disappointing World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina, there were calls for change all round.

Some wanted Joe Schmidt to jettison a third successive Six Nations in order to find new players, others desired a return to the drawing board to develop a new style of play and many called for an improvement of the Irish skill-set to bring players from this country on to the same level as those who hail from the southern hemisphere.

As the provinces failed to perform in Europe in the months that followed, the pressure grew on the coach and his players to perform in the Championship and he started his strongest possible team against Wales and France in a bid to keep the three-in-a-row bid on track.

One point from those two games, combined with a growing injury list, meant that Schmidt has almost been forced into bringing in new faces; handing debuts to four players so far.

The fact that they've all made positive impressions despite the results means that suddenly there is a modicum of optimism about the future for Irish rugby.

And perhaps even more encouraging was that the style of play with which Ireland chased England's lead has also offered succour for those looking for green shoots. The sight of forwards and backs linking in open country and the positive impression of Connacht's highly skilled second-row Ultan Dillane left fans with a positive impression of the future.

"There is definitely a shift in the wider channels in how we were trying to play the game wider," he said. "We got good success out there. We got one great ball that Nathan White gave to Johnny (Sexton) and we got Robbie (Henshaw) away down the touchline.

"The inter-play is there, the way we want to play the game is the way we played at the weekend. Players have the licence in this team it is just a case of when they are doing that they are expected to look after the ball.


"Whether that is support lines and they chase a little bit harder and maybe something, you don't think it is going to happen and it happens and the player knocks off, doesn't quite get there, is a key part to converting those line-breaks."

The idea that the likes of Dillane and Josh van der Flier, who combined brilliantly during that period, are displaying the fearlessness of youth does not wash with Murphy, however.

"I don't think any of our players have any fear, I really don't," he argued. "If you asked the players themselves, I don't think they have any fear of what they're doing out on the pitch. I think they go out on the pitch and try to make decisions based on what is happening in the game. But I don't think there's a fear factor from the players.

"If the players make mistakes and make bad decisions that is stuff that is going to be talked about but I don't think there's a fear factor.

"I would say if you look through the team, I would say most of those guys feel comfortable with ball in hand.

"The thing is getting them to believe in what they're doing a little bit as well. Things happen very, very quickly at international level and spaces are very, very small. If you second-guess yourself, that opportunity is gone. It's just about them not actually over-thinking the situation and playing in the moment is probably the key thing."

With all the new faces, the Ireland coaching team have argued that they are dealing with an experience deficit despite the presence of six Lions in the starting XV last weekend.

That has impacted in their composure when chances present themselves, but it also creeps into the key moments when England were cleverer in disrupting Ireland's flow.

"I don't think leadership is an issue because every player is expected to lead himself," he said. "They're international rugby players, they're guys that are doing this for a living.

"Maybe a little bit of experience in some situations might make a difference, like once or twice at the weekend we were caught a little bit short in relation to doing things that were interfered with because of the fact that they're a little bit more streetwise at times."

Can streetwise be coached?

"It can be," he said. "But it's probably a negative side of the game as well. It's sort of borderline between, 'Are you cheating or are you streetwise?' It's trying to get that balance really. I think players learn that from experience. Being out there seeing it and doing it they can pick up those little things."

With three Tests against South Africa, two against New Zealand and one against Australia, Ireland's young players have to learn fast.

Twickenham showed promise and gives Schmidt something to build on against Italy and Scotland ahead of the steps up in class to come.

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