Conor Murray's form has not been at its usual elevated levels since his return from injury late last year but Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy believes his teammates need to do more to help the scrum-half return to his best.
The Munster nine missed months of rugby with a neck injury suffered on tour to Australia last summer and only made it back onto the field of play again in late November for a Guinness PRO14 trip to Zebre.
Many has been the player who needed a run of games to get themselves back up to speed – Brian O'Driscoll always insisted that he wouldn't find his stride until he had half-a-dozen put away – but Murray has played ten times since that Italian reboot now and is still below par.
“He is progressing well,” said Murphy on Wednesday afternoon and ahead of the third Six Nations game, against Italy in Rome next weekend. “A late start to the season is quite difficult for players and Conor is not different.
“Players around him can help take the pressure off. Just try and get him into the place where everyone knows he is a world-class player. Get him where he is feeling good about himself and players around him are taking the pressure off him.”
There is no question but that Murray will rediscover his groove at some point and Joe Schmidt has, understandably, stuck by him with ample game time afforded against both England and Scotland in the opening two rounds.
Jonathan Sexton is another key player to have struggled in the defeat by England and, while there have been calls for Joey Carbery to start against the Azzurri, the elder statesman lasted just 23 minutes against the Scots before being replaced with a head injury
Bench him this Sunday and he faces the prospect of facing the French a fortnight later with just 103 minutes of game time under his belt in 2019. That will likely take precedence over the need to bank more minutes for Carbery ahead of the World Cup.
“With all these games it is about getting the right mix on the pitch,” said Murphy. “Joey obviously played a lot of the Scottish game so it is trying to balance that up with game time for Johnny. We’ve watched them training over the last few days. Both guys are in good form.
“We’ll just make a decision a little bit later on.”
Much has been made of the manner in which Sexton leaves himself open to physical punishment by playing so flat to the line and leaving it so late to play passes to onrushing teammates.
It is a ploy that created a superb try for Jacob Stockdale against Scotland in Edinburgh and, at the same time, left him poleaxed by Allan Dell. Not ideal given his importance to the side but Murphy doesn't see it changing any time soon.
“It’s the game he plays. He plays flat on the line. When you play flat on the line you are going to get hit. Obviously, we don’t want him off the pitch. There is a fine line between what is fair and what isn’t fair and as long as the referees are able to judge that and decide what is right Johnny is not going to change the way he plays that much.”
“If he changes he is not the same player. He won’t create the holes he creates for other people, then there is no point really in having him. It is a two-fold thing really; the idea of him changing his game so he can stay on the pitch doesn’t really fit in.
“He needs to play the game he feels is best. He is a confrontational type of character. He wants to play on the gainline, he wants to create space for others.”
Murphy also revealed that everyone trained at the squad's Wednesday's session, including the returning Robbie Henshaw, Chris Farrell and Tadhg Beirne.