Murray and Cooney cool about ‘red-hot’ Ireland rivalry

Conor Murray or John Cooney? It’s the selection question that has polarised opinion at the outset of Ireland’s new era under Andy Farrell but it doesn’t always have to be one or the other.

Murray and Cooney cool about ‘red-hot’ Ireland rivalry

Conor Murray or John Cooney? It’s the selection question that has polarised opinion at the outset of Ireland’s new era under Andy Farrell but it doesn’t always have to be one or the other.

Turns out that they do a pretty decent double act.

Farrell utilised both their talents on Saturday when introducing Cooney in Murray’s place on the hour in the opening Six Nations defeat of Scotland in Dublin.

And the two scrum-halves put on a united and relaxed front when sitting side by side in front of the media yesterday.

It seemed like an odd ploy. Multi-player top-table conferences are a staple of the All Blacks’ media schedule.

More often than not degenerate into a mind-numbing haze of in-jokes and sweet nothings. Murray and Cooney were far more enlightening and still entertaining for it.

This isn’t the first time they have haggled over the same shirt.

Cooney was 19, playing a year underage, when he first supported Murray off the bench, for an opening U20s Six Nations game against France at Dubarry Park in 2009.

It didn’t go well.

Cooney: “I threw a pass over Ian Madigan’s head and got dropped the next week.

Murray: “Well, Ian Madigan is quite short.”

By the end yesterday, they were, if not quite finishing each other’s sentences, then moving seamlessly into the slipstream left by the other’s words.

This is not, by any stretch of the imagination a repeat of the tetchy relationship back in the day between Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O’Gara.

“They are two very different personalities than us,” Murray said with emphasis. “Just be yourself,” he added.

“You don’t have to try to create animosity. If you get along, you get along. You train as hard as you can.”

Murray couldn’t help but hear the clamour for Cooney’s promotion to the starting XV last week and he was honest enough to admit that there was added motivation to be mined in the knowledge that some people out there were writing him off.

There was a long time there when, by his own admission, his name was etched in stone on an Ireland teamsheet. Not anymore.

He claims to have embraced this internal challenge to his status from Cooney and, to a lesser extent, Leinster’s Luke McGrath.

Like, scrum-half as a competitive position is red-hot at the moment. Obviously there was times before when you might have thought you’d be in the following week if you’d had an average game the week before.

"Whereas now if you have a game that’s below par you’re probably gonna stress a bit more than you have been before.”

There is no compunction to draw up the trapdoor and protect their own intellectual property.

Murray talked of open environments, a lack of secrets and a collective effort on the part of the squad’s three scum-halves. Cooney agrees.

“We still picked each others brains last week and it is reflective of him — for all the stuff he has done in his career and to still be so approachable,” said Cooney.

“There is no ego with him in terms of he will listen to exactly what you say and whether you have a point. He listens really well.”

Odds are that Farrell will opt for Murray from the off again against Wales this Saturday and Cooney as back-up.

Selection issues aside, Ireland have much to improve on from the opening game despite what Murray said yesterday about “easy fixes”.

Much of what Farrell and Sexton said after the stuttering win against the Scots at the Aviva Stadium echoed the comments and tone from 2019 when the team never quite clicked and suffered five chastening defeats across the calendar year. That’s a mite unnerving.

The hope is — and it is still hope at this stage rather than expectation — that Farrell’s player-centric approach and commitment to a more expansive and varied attacking strategy begins to click.

They will have to. There are much tougher tasks than the Scots to come.

“There’s so many good ideas and so many things we want to implement into our game,” said Murray who noted that the squad’s opportunities to work on this new brief has been severely limited.

“You can’t have it all on show on Saturday, it’s impossible to show off everything we’ve been working on.”

It’s impossible to know where Ireland stand right now.

Were the errors and the general difficulties experienced against Scotland a result of rustiness, new ideas, or some other treatable issue.

Or were they a continuance of the general malaise and diminishing returns witnessed in 2019?

Positivity is still the tone emanating from the lips of those inside the camp. That is only to be expected.

Ronan O’Gara spoke for the rest of us on TV on Saturday when he wondered aloud as to the true mental state and confidence levels among the squad and staff.

“There is definitely more than enough belief,” said Murray.

“Wales are going to be really tough, they’ve played the same way for a long time now but there’s going to be a few differences.

“Their kicking game and the pressure they put on you with their kick-chase is going to make life pretty difficult.

“That’s an area we’re going to improve on, our kicking and our contestable kicks and exits. We came under a bit of pressure there at the weekend, our game-breakers.

"Their back line is always a handful. They’ve got speed, size, they can play in a variety of different ways.

“They’re Grand Slam champions, they’ll be coming here looking to get a result. It’s going to be a tough one.”

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