Conor Murray has warned that Munster can ill afford yet another slow start when they begin their final bid for silverware at Thomond Park tomorrow.
In-form Edinburgh visit Limerick for the Guinness PRO14 semi-final qualifier as Munster aim to stamp out the individual errors that cost them a 21-3 lead inside 20 minutes to Racing 92 12 days ago, a desperately poor opening quarter to their Champions Cup semi-final that cost the province a first European final since 2008.
It leaves Johann van Graan’s side with one last shot of a first trophy since the Magners League title of 2011 and scrum-half Murray, set to return to the starting line-up alongside his fellow frontliners after being given last weekend off, believes a recent trend of playing catch-up rugby has to stop or there will be even more disappointment.
“It’s been at us for a couple of weeks that we started slow and it’s really hard to pinpoint,” Murray said yesterday as the PRO14 launched its new broadcasting agreement for next season with eir Sport in Dublin.
“The Racing game was individual. As much as we want to stay as a collective team — I slipped up on tackle and let (Virimi) Vakatawa through (for Teddy Thomas’s opening try), you’ve got to be in the right frame of mind and ready for a game.
“We do our best to be ready as a collective team and be ready across the board but a certain amount of responsibility has to come down to you as a player and that’s something I want to change this weekend. Be ready, you can’t warm into a game like that.”
Murray does not think major changes are needed to right the wrongs of that performance last time out in Bordeaux, despite the criticism his team has received in its aftermath.
“Haven’t changed a thing. I don’t think we need to. It’s been addressed. We’ve looked at the clips, the black and white reasons why we lost the game and that’s been addressed.
"I don’t think we need to change... we’ve been doing so well for so long, or the majority of the season, that it’s worked for us. It’s just a minor thing, a minor mindset thing in a few fellas heads, and other than that we’ve been going really well.
Connacht’s Kieran Marmion, Munster’s Conor Murray, Leinster’s Josh van der Flier, and Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee share a joke in Dublin yesterday where the PRO14 launched its new broadcasting agreement for next season with eir Sport.
“We’ve been going so well that had we won that game, we’d still be going really well, and now the fact that we’ve lost a game that’s just the way it is in rugby in Ireland, people start questioning you straight away.
“Our task is just to ignore that and remember how good a side we are, and go out and play this weekend.”
The Ireland and Lions star did admit winning a first competition in seven seasons would go a long way to relieving the pressure that has been added with every campaign since without a trophy.
“In a way we probably need it because if we go another year without a trophy it just builds that pressure again, and that’s the bald facts of it.
“Since the Racing game all we’ve wanted to do is perform this weekend, as close as we can to our potential, and if we do that, with respect to Edinburgh who are on an unbelievable run of eight wins in nine games, beating all the Irish provinces, they’re a force to be reckoned with.
"But we just want to show everyone how we can perform, and get rid of that Racing game — then to end with a trophy would take a bit of heat off.”
With Ireland’s tour to Australia set to extend Murray’s season into late June and the 2016-17 campaign not finishing until his return from New Zealand with the Lions early last July, the Munster scrum-half remains incredibly sharp and fresh heading into the PRO14 play-offs.
“I feel great, you get some down weeks here and there, so you get to work on niggles etc. Mentally, I feel good, it’s a challenging few weeks, especially the semi-final week, you put so much effort into it, and then when it doesn’t go to plan, it takes a bit of wind out of your sails.
“That’s where the challenge is — if you are mentally strong enough you dust yourself off and suddenly you feel fresher when you win games. It’s been challenging, it’s been tough, it’s been a really exciting year, there’s never a dull moment, I feel great and ready to go.”
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