Tuesday 16 January 2018

Murray: 'We've been to tight places and come out the right side. That will stand to us'

Conor Murray tells Ruaidhri O'Connor why he believes Ireland can draw on their Six Nations success as they take on the world

Conor Murray
Conor Murray
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

CONOR MURRAY orders a coffee, relaxed as you please. He has been roused from his down-time, chilling out and listening to Drake in his room at Carton House, receiving a late summons to come and have a chat with the Irish Independent in the lobby after our original subject came down with an injury.

Four years ago he might have fretted over such an impromptu, unscheduled interview, but the Patrickswell native is a natural at this stage.

In the time since he was propelled from relative obscurity to starting Ireland's World Cup games, the 26-year-old has grown on and off the pitch.

His career will always be measured by World Cups after he bolted from the blue to star in New Zealand in 2011.

The story of his role in that tournament has been told often enough, but he knows that the experience he gained in those first months of his Ireland career will stand to him in the coming weeks.

Now, he is one of the first names on Joe Schmidt's team-sheet, a Test Lion and one of the world's leading scrum-halves.

His relationship with Johnny Sexton, a source of concern in his early days, has developed into one of the finest partnerships in the game.

Together, the duo have won two Six Nations and come out of some tight spots.

Big things are expected in England and Wales and Murray believes that the experience of the last two seasons under Joe Schmidt will stand to Ireland when the going gets tough.

"The last World Cup, I was new to the squad. This time around, especially the last two years, we've had success and it's something we don't just forget about. We have to draw on it," he says.

"We've had big wins in November and in the recent Six Nations - when it comes down to it we have won those games.

"We're aware that some of the games that we've won, like France in the 2014 Six Nations, that was won on very fine margins.

"As a whole, it looks like a great day but when you break down that game there were a few small moments that swung that game in our favour. Whether it was keeping them out or scoring our own tries, it was all little things that went in our favour because we were good enough to make them go in our favour.

"You need a tiny bit of luck as well, but we can draw on that. We've been to those tight scenarios and we've come through them. So, if we hopefully find ourselves in a big moment at the World Cup, we'll know we're able to come through it."

Murray lives for the big games and you can be certain that the October 11 clash with France at the Millennium Stadium will be marked out on his calendar.

He thrives when the stakes get higher, relishing the opportunity to prove himself by dominating the world's best.

"I probably come across a bit laid-back, but I do put a bit of pressure on myself to perform in big games and the smaller games that you might play for your club are probably more of a challenge," he explains.

"Smaller crowds, smaller buzz; it's not as hyped up as an international or a big European game. It's not that I struggle with them but you have to get yourself in the mind-frame during the week to be ready to play well.

"I've kind of learned that over the last four years. With big games, an awful lot of it looks after itself.

"The pressure's there, but with that just comes excitement. I put pressure on myself, I get nervous, I get that; but I just enjoy it too.

"Take England at home in the last Six Nations: that was one of the big games when I felt a bit more nervous than I usually would because it was England and it was a huge game for us as a squad. But the whole country was behind us because of that, a lot of that looked after itself and that buzz excites me as much as it scares me as well."

It helps that he's been through the World Cup process before and came out the better of the experience.

"The last time was an adventure. It was new experience after new experience; it was amazing being down in the southern hemisphere and a long way from home, I think we gelled really well as a squad," he recalls.

"I took every experience in my stride and really just enjoyed it. The fact that I worked my way into the team as well is, looking back, kind of huge for me right now. I have experience of a World Cup, the atmosphere, the pressure, the excitement.

"I know there's pressure, but I'm more excited about it. It's going to be an incredible competition; since the squad was named, you feel extra lucky that you're involved. You're honoured.

"You hear people say that an awful lot, it's probably repetitive, but they are. You see how hard fellas have worked over the course of four years and in particular the last eight weeks only to miss out for whatever reason; you count yourself lucky - well, lucky and there's the fact that you made a goal and you worked really hard for it, so there's a side that deserves it as well.

"There's a side of me that has a sense of what it's going to be like. I'm in the squad since then for four years since the last World Cup, I'm a lot more comfortable in the squad, I might understand the game of rugby a bit better. . . everything is just four years further on and progressed than what it was.

"I'd like to think I'm a better player than I was back then and I'm definitely more experienced, I've more caps and I feel good about where we were."

There is no doubt that the experience of New Zealand, a Lions tour in which he went from third-choice scrum-half to closing out the final Test and successive Six Nations successes have brought him on, while he is now a recognised leader at Munster.

This month, Murray has a chance to show what he can do in front of a global audience against the best No 9s in the game and he is relishing the prospect.

"100pc, I wouldn't be afraid to say that," he says. "I'm quite competitive and to make the Irish squad, there's been four of us in camp all summer and we're all trying to get an edge on each other.

"But you'd be silly to say that's all you think about, because you don't. When I played against Wales I knew I was up against Rhys Webb, and that was a weird game, our first hit-out of the season, but any time you're up against these lads you do want to pit yourself against them and want to play well against them.

"That's part of the excitement of the big games. If you're playing against a good team, they'll more than likely have a good No9, you want to play well against him.

"Definitely, you keep an eye on the Rugby Championship, all the other European nations and an eye on other players as well. Every player does that.

"To get into the squad, you have to be competitive and that doesn't stop once you get into the Irish squad, it continues as well.

"(New Zealand's) Aaron Smith is a very good player, the times we've played against him I've put extra pressure on myself to play a little bit better and, when we played New Zealand a couple of years ago, it was one of my better games for Ireland.

"It's the same for any player. When Paul (O'Connell) is up against Alun-Wyn Jones or Brodie Retallick, he knows he's up against a good player. It's just the natural way I am."

Irish Independent

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