Conor Murray may have reached the point where his inclusion in an Ireland World Cup squad is a nigh-on certaint,y but that will not prevent the scrum-half from believing he still has an opportunity to impress against Wales tomorrow at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland’s first-choice number nine will get his first taste of pre-season Test action in Dublin as head coach Joe Schmidt uses the game against a near full-strength Welsh team to firm-up his final thoughts on selection for the 31-man World Cup squad ahead of Monday’s 5:30pm deadline for the tournament.
And in that regard, the Munster half-back is no different from any of the fringe players in wanting to give the boss a reason to pick him during the World Cup over in England and Cardiff, particularly as he has had to watch his positional rivals stake their claims in the first couple of friendlies this month.
“I think coming into the team this week you are just looking to take your chances to play as well you can,” Murray said.
“Just looking, it is a very competitive squad... the lads have all played as well they possibly could in the last few weeks and training is really intense.
“When I am not really involved over the last two games it is quite difficult to watch really, so when we get our chance we have to go out there and play well because the reviews of games has been, not harsher, but the pressure is being put on players because the big decision Joe has to make and Joe has to have a reason to pick you and that is what Joe is doing this weekend.”
Murray is among a number of frontline Ireland starters making their pre-season bows in Dublin this weekend, not least his half-back partner Johnny Sexton and the scrum-half reiterated the point that even the stars of the show are not being given any leeway in Schmidt’s search for excellence.
“He’s putting pressure on the whole squad to perform well and to a level that’s acceptable to us.
“It’s been great to be involved over the last few seasons and done well but the World Cup is completely different. There’s a few new faces in the squad and players have played well in the first two warm-up games.
“The mindset is week by week. You don’t really think about the past or if you might or might not be selected. It’s really about getting your chance and my focus this weekend is Wales.
“It’s my first run out of the year and I want to hit the ground running. We’ve worked hard over the last eight weeks, had a full eight weeks pre-season, which is brilliant.
“We’ve been managed really well in terms of being rested and we’re coming in and working hard. My mindset is just to get out and play well against Wales and hopefully I can do that.”
With Murray and Sexton set to pull the strings once more against a Wales axis of Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar, the Irish nine is not convinced there will be any scope for keeping certain plays under wraps ahead of the Pool D campaign against Canada, Romania, Italy and France.
“No, I’m sure Joe and the rest of the coaching staff will have looked at our opposition in the World Cup and probably have a few different combinations or moves that they might want to try out in those games and we might not be using them in this game.
“But we’ve our full game-plan and menu ready to go. I think we’re not afraid to show our cards. There might be one or two things we mightn’t play this weekend. We might save them for a particular game in the World Cup.
“But, no, I don’t think you can hold back in a Test match. You’re going to have to do everything you can to win it and put points on the board. We’re fully confident with the game-plan we have for this weekend.
“It’s a Test match, you saw their team, it’s littered with stars and people who’ve big-game experience. We’d like to think our team is as well, so it’s going to be a cracker of a full-on Test game.”
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