Conor Murray cracks a wry smile as he sits down to chat about the week that’s been, about Ireland’s shortcomings this season, and about how they intend to fix those issues in time for the more pressing fixtures that lie ahead.
He knows what is coming over the next 20 or so minutes. The experienced scrum-half is no stranger to facing the media, but over the course of the last six months the questions aimed in his direction have become less comfortable to answer.
First things first, in Murray’s words, what happened in Twickenham was “embarrassing”.
While stressing he’s not looking to point to excuses, Murray offers up various factors which contributed to Ireland being so far off the pace in that record 57-15 drubbing.
Many of the team were playing their first real rugby of the summer. There were some heavy legs after a hard week of warm-weather training in Portugal. This is all in line with what Joe Schmidt had explained in Carton House a day previously, where Ireland are currently preparing for the first of two back-to-back warm-up games against Wales.
Now for the problems which are less black and white to the general observer, including a lineout which malfunctioned horribly in the Twickenham heat.
Naturally, Rory Best has come under the most fire for that problem. The captain turned 37 recently, and his performance against England has added fire to the debate his place in the team could, or perhaps should, be under real threat.
“The lineout’s not just down to the hooker,” Murray explains.
You’ve heard that before, but it isn’t. Rory is a guy who is an incredibly strong character. He’s leading this week incredibly strongly, he’s obviously at the forefront of this as our captain and wants to put it right, he’s leading us into this game (against Wales on Saturday).
“You’ve seen them in meetings with the hookers, lineout callers, lineout jumpers, and trying to figure out what went wrong because it usually is such a solid platform for us.
“When you ask about (the importance of producing) results (against Wales), that’s just a performance thing — when you get that right, perform well in the lineout and we launch off that, and suddenly the game is quite different.
“I don’t know how many turnovers we gave them off lineout and it just made it a long day. Rory has been through things like this before and it’s only about what’s happening inside our four walls in camp and how we’re going to deal with it.
" A lot of people will probably blame the hooker because the majority of people probably don’t understand the working parts of a lineout.”
Now for his own contribution. While Murray has by no means been the worst offender during Ireland’s struggles in 2019, there is no doubting he is not performing to the same level as in the previous three years under Schmidt, a spell during which he was widely praised as being the premier No. 9 in world rugby.
His time on the pitch last weekend was reduced thanks to a heavy collision with Jonny May on 27 minutes, with Murray not risked for the second half despite passing his HIA.
While fully fit and available for selection, the 30-year-old was not in line to feature against Wales this weekend anyway, as Schmidt continues to play with different combinations before finalising his 31-man squad.
And it is not just a misfiring lineout that needs to be addressed in Cardiff. Ireland’s tackling against England was, at times, atrocious, while their attack continues to look predictable.
Murray himself was limited to just one box-kick in Twickenham, and says that there has been a conscious decision to become less reliant on the move that previously proved so successful for him, as Ireland look to introduce some much-needed variety to their play.
We’re mixing it up because you saw it here (against England) in the Six Nations. I thought we kicked really well, nines, 10s and people on the edge that day, but we got no access to the ball.
“The way they’re reffing it (the box-kick), the way the — I wouldn’t say blockers — but the way they’re allowed to run back towards the receiver, sometimes it’s very hard to get access.
“I don’t think we’re going away from it, that’s been a strength of ours for a long time and when we need to use it, we definitely will. It’s just good to maybe explore other ways to get into that contest or relieve pressure.
“Like I said, I thought we kicked really well in the Six Nations but we didn’t get access and it was effectively just giving them the ball back.”
All in all, Murray insists he is confident the squad has what it takes to overturn this alarming slump in time for the World Cup.
“The lads were in (camp) on Sunday night, we didn’t have any meetings, everyone was watching the game and trying to learn and fix it.
“Then Monday and Tuesday was really honest.
The squad we have now is pretty similar to the squad we’ve had for the last four odd years, so there is evidence there that this squad can fix it.
The clock is ticking.
Ireland rugby starMurray was on hand in Aviva Stadium to launch the Aviva Mini Rugby Nations Cup.
Aviva are giving 20 U10 boys’ and U12 girls’ teams the chance to fulfil their dreams by playing on the same pitch as their heroes on September 22 while Conor and the team are up against Scotland in Japan. See aviva.ie/safetodream or Aviva Ireland social channels using #SafeToDream for details.