The heavy fitness work is over ahead of a first run of the summer, but even though the World Cup is still a month away, Conor Murray knows there is no such thing as preseason when it comes to playing England at Twickenham.
Like the rest of this Ireland squad currently training in the heat of Portugal’s Algarve this week, the Munster scrumhalf has plenty to prove before he gets on the plane for Japan and a World Cup pool opener against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22.
Murray, 30, is a certainty —barring injury — to make the final cut on September 2, but the team still have hoops to jump through and momentum to gather before then, starting with the stiff challenge facing Ireland this Saturday.
Forget using the phrase “warm-up” as an opener.
“I don’t know how you take the big-game element out of it,” Murray said yesterday. “In Twickenham, against England, or away from home in general, it’s a massive game and a game you’ve got to start really well.
“It’s a game that could get away from you if you’re not up for it, if you’re not up for it physically. It’s all well and good doing your pre-season and a l l your fitness and weights and phase-play, but at the end of the day, the contact is a massive part of this game.
You look at the momentumgivers they have — the Vunipolas, Itoje, Mako is back this week, Tuilagi — that’s a massive part of the game against any team, in particular England.
“It’s hugely important to get up for that side of the game.
The nuts and bolts of the game are really important and then hopefully, on the back of that, the work we’ve done in the pre-season can flourish. Personally, as players and a team that are going to play this weekend, it’s a Test match. You’ve got to get up for it, be really on top of your work, be physically and mentally ready.
It is, Murray conceded, an unusual jumping-off point for a player’s season, particularly having succumbed to a ferocious England start in Dublin on the first day of last season’s Six Nations that led to a painful home defeat and a disappointing title defence that ended with a loss to Wales.
“Yeah, a Twickenham start. There’s enough lads with enough experience to know how tough it’s going to be. It’s not a balancing act, it’s more a realisation that it’s not a warm-up game.
“It is our first game, but it’s going to be a really tough ask.
“So, mentally preparing for this game is as important as the physical work we’ve done. “With England having two games under their belts now it’s going to be really tough, the start of the game. The first 20 minutes is going to be massive in terms of getting set and getting into the game and giving ourselves a chance.”
When it comes to that Six Nations disappointment, Murray added: “It’s not a motivating factor in the dressing room, it’s an individual thing and to be honest with you, it’s gone, it’s over. Looking back on those games, we know how we lost them.
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“We know what went wrong, but a lot went right in that Six Nations and there’s a lot of stuff we can take from them, the resilience we showed. “Looking back on that England game, we just made a bad start and that seemed to be the start of the storyline for our Six Nations, I suppose, outside our group and maybe a little bit inside our group.
“That was the starting block, that was the standard set and it felt like we were chasing ourselves. But realistically, looking back at the game, a couple of little errors that turned out to be big errors just set us up for that game and maybe for the rest of the Six Nations.
“So we didn’t get too bogged down in it, we knew what went wrong and how to fix it, so I think that’s long gone, but still really valuable learning lessons.”