'We are not slaves to gameplan,' insists Murray
WATCHING Joe Schmidt's Ireland, it is easy to imagine the coach directing his players around the park from up in the stands with a magic wand.
Nobody is buying his regular claims that he is an innocent bystander like everyone else in the west stand of the Aviva Stadium, but Conor Murray says the players retain a level of autonomy. When it's on, they're encouraged to take their own risks.
The fear factor lingers, with the squad fully aware of the scathing tongue that awaits in the review room ready to pounce on any inaccuracy.
But the Lions scrum-half doesn't hear his master's voice in his ears as he plays.
"No, that would hinder you wouldn't it? If you were thinking about what people were saying too much," he said.
"I suppose you listen to Joe and the coaching staff all the way through the week and they give you the feedback and the correct gameplan and you rep it out, and if there are a few tweaks that he wants to talk to you about he'll do that.
"But once you go out onto the pitch you should have a clear mind and know exactly what to do, and then in other areas of the game when split seconds decisions are to be made, you back yourself, that's completely fine as well.
"Joe does not stop you from backing yourself. If you see something on, you go for it. That's absolutely fair enough, but if it doesn't work out and you put the team under pressure, then you might find yourself talked to.
"If there's something on, you go for it. The split second decisions are where you want to back yourselves, that's completely fine as well. Joe does not stop you from backing yourself.
"To a certain extent (you're following orders), but you don't go out on the pitch as a robot and just do exactly what you're told to do. You do have a game-plan and, under any coach, there's a game-plan that you try and follow it as best you can.
"Look through the video and there's times we go against the grain of play or do our own thing. If you see the little kick for Robbie; people do back themselves and express themselves if they want to, you can do that within a game-plan as well."
Murray believes Ireland have improved over the past year even if they are not perfect going into the battles with Wales and Scotland.
"We've definitely improved. Winning's a habit and it's a nice habit to get into. It helps things flow a lot easier.
"There's loads of areas in which we've improved, even individuals working with coaches on certain areas, things like that," the MaxiNutrition ambassador said. "Our defence is huge, it was really, really good at the weekend. It was the first time in a while where we haven't been within seven points of the opposition and they could win it with a late score.
"It was nice to have that little bit of cushion, I think it was great the way we held them out at the end.
"We are a year further down the line with Joe. We know each other a lot better and that obviously on shows on the pitch."
After the win over South Africa, Schmidt brought Murray down to earth in the dressing-room, reminding him that the chip he'd put in for Tommy Bowe's try was supposed to land in the winger's hands. Last Sunday, there was no tap on the shoulder after Robbie Henshaw latched on to another Murray kick to score.
"He was happy, yeah! It was a free play, there was a penalty advantage for a high tackle," he said with a smile. "So it's not a kick to nothing but it's a free one, you get the ball back for a kick at goal or into the corner and thankfully it came off.
"Robbie did really well, it was a 50-50 and Alex Goode was back there, but I just backed Robbie to go up after the ball."
They enjoyed Sunday night and were given space by Schmidt to celebrate and relax. Today, they regroup in Belfast and begin to plan for Wales. Despite a 10-game unbeaten record, Murray feels there is room to improve.
"There were a few kicks to them that were too long which was quite frustrating from my view and I think Johnny would be the same - we can always tighten up on that area," he said.
"There was a huge number of missed tackles so Les (Kiss) will have a lot for us to do in the tackle area, I'm sure Joe will have a lot of work for us to do.
"I am not putting a whole negative picture on it, we did play well, we carried out a game-plan very effectively. It was a big game with a lot of pressure on and we must take confidence from that.