Conor Murray on the fine margins that helped him avoid serious injury

The line between triumph and disaster is seldom more than gossamer thin in the Six Nations.

One-score games are a staple of the spring scene: 15 since 2016, to be exact. An injury here or a bad bounce of a ball or refereeing decision there and title ambitions can melt like March snow. Expectation and ambition thwarted for another 12 months.

Ireland already had Paris, of course, but the manner of the last quarter against Wales two weeks ago may arguably trump that memorable finale given the myriad ways in which it could all have gone wrong and very nearly did.

Had Jacob Stockdale not intercepted Gareth Anscombe’s looped pass then Warren Gatland’s side could have crossed for the winner.

Had the knee to Jonathan Sexton’s back been that bit harder or a millimetre or two higher or lower then the Leinster ten may have been done for the duration.

And had Conor Murray not reacted so quickly and instinctively after 66 minutes the last day then Joe Schmidt might have been without his frankly irreplaceable scrum-half for the last two laps of his team’s Grand Slam chase.

“We just got counter-rucked and they managed to push a player back on top of me. It was like what happened Ben Youngs when he did — his ACL I think — against Italy. I just managed to get my knee out of the ground in time so that it wasn’t too serious.

“I’ve strained my knee like that before,” Murray added. “It’s sore at the time obviously, (given) the way I was rolling around, but it quickly comes right. I’ve been working hard with the physios and I feel pretty good.”

Young’s injury was a medial collateral ligament but the point stands.

A bit of a fright, Murray called it.

The consensus was that the scrum-half, Sexton and Tadhg Furlong were the three players this Ireland team simply couldn’t afford to lose and yet the tighthead’s recent unavailability hasn’t caused a downturn in fortunes.

Far from it, actually, but no-one would want to approach the weekend’s meeting with the Scots testing that theory further. Not with Murray proving yet again just how indispensable he is to his country’s cause.

Ten minutes after that ‘fright’ against Wales and the Munster man was kicking a penalty to put Ireland ten points in the clear. It’s a string to his bow that he has had to reach for more than once down the years.

He kicked penalties in school, in the AIL with Garryowen and with the Ireland U20s but it wasn’t until Lions kicking coach Neil Jenkins encouraged him to brush up on the practice, in Australia in 2013, that he began to properly address the ball off the ground again.

Notable efforts have since been recorded against Leicester Tigers, Racing 92 and New Zealand, the last of them in Chicago, before his successful attempt so late on against the Welsh two weekends ago.

“It’s extremely difficult,” said Joey Carbery, “under pressure and at that time of the game. He practises enough so when it gets to that situation all he had to rely on was his technique. And then when that comes through we were able to get the points.”

Murray has been taking no risks with his knee in recent days. Training has been on the cautious side of light and the usual roll call of movies and box sets watched was only expanded by the treacherous conditions outdoors.

As preparation goes, it could not have been more different from that of his opposite number Greg Laidlaw who spent Sunday afternoon kicking 11 points in Clermont Auvergne’s Top 14 defeat of La Rochelle.

Laidlaw has been impressive with the boot for the Scots. Ireland will be aware of the hurt he can impose if they give away penalties and Murray clearly doesn’t believe that his recent exertions in the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin will have a bearing this Saturday.

“Maybe if he was playing all year but I think he’s been keen to get game-time. If he hasn’t picked up any knocks he’ll be good to go and full of energy.

“I don’t remember Greig Laidlaw kicking poorly. If you give him a chance he’ll take it.”


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