What’s the panic, lads? While brows became fevered at Ireland’s stuttering Guinness Six Nations title defence and the form of its star scrum-half, Conor Murray always knew he and his team were never that far away from regaining their momentum. Last Sunday, in a first-half demolition of France that led to a 26-14 bonus-point victory, the rest of us caught up to his way of thinking.
And though there will need to be further improvement over 80 minutes to offer an adequate challenge to Wales’s Grand Slam chasers in Cardiff this Saturday, Murray is confident Ireland have shown enough form to have cleared the hump and emerged from the slump.
“It was more like us, wasn’t it?” Murray said yesterday of the French win. “It was what we’ve been used to, I think the breakdown, it allowed us to play and be a bit more fluid and, again, make the right calls. When you’re under pressure and dealing with a slow ball or whatever, it can be harder to nail those opportunities and make those decisions. It wasn’t complete relief of pressure. It was a little bit more pleasing, it means coming into camp with a little bit more bounce in your step. I think we learn an awful lot more having gone through that.”
Murray accepts there was concern outside the camp following the home defeat to England and less than stellar performances in victory at Murrayfield and Rome but insisted good form was never far away. “It’s been there all the time. I think it can be dangerous when a couple of things don’t go right in a particular game and people start to question you, people start to wonder what’s wrong, and why aren’t passes sticking. But this team and the players and the coaches, all our support staff, we’ve been together for so long, we’ve performed together for quite a long period of time, and we know it’s there.
“Panic is probably the wrong word, it’s just an eagerness to straighten out or iron out the creases of things that weren’t going our way. It was just we were aware of things that weren’t fully functioning. It was just a matter of getting down to work with each other, going hard after fixing those problems. There is confidence in the group, the personal confidence, that was always there.
“There was anxiety to get it right because we know the level we can play at. In a way it’s a compliment that people are questioning it. I know we’re winning games but our performances weren’t great. It’s what people are expecting. You kind of took a bit of confidence from it, in a weird way.”
The same applies to his personal form, the focus of attention since Murray started his season in late November following a neck injury.
“I suppose you feel it when your family is asking you how you are? ‘Yeah, I’m good. Why?’ There is a bit of pressure on. I have felt good, I have felt really good.
“We’ve just been a little bit off for this tournament and Saturday was a really good step forward. During that time, you’ve to stay realistic and focus on what hasn’t been working. They’ve been small things, things you can easily fix. I wasn’t panicking and changing the way I’ve been training or the way I view the game, or putting more pressure on, or trying harder within the group…
“I’m realistic. I’m really honest with myself. I’m working with a couple of video analysts in here and in Munster. I’m looking at my game in detail and it hasn’t been much different, lads, I’m sorry to tell you. I’m not sorry to tell you, but, it genuinely hasn’t. There’s been a few things I would have been upset with over the tournament...
“Confidence-wise, obviously, you are trying to get to the level that you’re used to. Sunday was a step in the right direction. There is another big one to come this weekend and we will try and put in another good performance, really get things going.”