Conor Murray has received Shane Horgan’s backing to cope with the pressure of being one of Ireland’s key figures against South Africa, but fears the team are becoming too reliant on the Munster scrum-half.
Ireland arrived in Cape Town missing eight of the players who started in the Six Nations title win against Scotland last year and will be a lacking a vast array of experienced leaders. Of those eight, six were test-capped Lions and now the onus of leadership will fall squarely on the shoulders of Rory Best, Jamie Heaslip and Murray.
Former Ireland and Leinster winger Horgan will be on duty for Sky Sports throughout the series and he is confident that Murray, who could win his 50th cap on this tour, will be able to perform without Johnny Sexton.
“It’s tough for him. When you think there couldn’t be any more responsibility on his shoulders they lose Johnny Sexton and it doubles up again,” Horgan said. “Of all the people, he can deal with it. He carries himself very well, he speaks very well, he plays very well and that’s the most important thing.” However, Horgan argued that Ireland have become too reliant on Sexton and Murray and that blooding younger players, such as Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion, should be considered.
But the two-time Heineken Cup winner admits that it is easier said than done. “Because Conor is so important from a structural point of view it’s a risk not having him on the field all of the time when Sexton’s not there,” he said. “This is a tour when you have to take those risks and bring in players. There’s not a lot to be lost by giving an opportunity to guys and demanding some of the responsibility is removed from Conor.
“If we can get that and learn that from this tour, if we can [remove] some of the necessity where so much revolves around nine and 10 that would be a really positive outcome.”
Limerick man Murray is just one of five Munster players selected by Joe Schmidt for this tour and Horgan says that they will be eager to put a dismal provincial season behind them.
“If it’s true about how confident the Connacht lads will feel then the opposite can be the case as well. From my experience playing for Leinster and going in after Christmas and after a season that was unsuccessful you were crazy to get into Irish camp,” Horgan explained.
“It had a real affect that you have an opportunity to change the narrative of your season because nobody likes not being successful or making the knock-out stages of competitions or feeling you didn’t perform as well as you could have. But there’s no doubt it’ll be nagging in the back of their minds [that] if things don’t start off in a positive manner they’ll be doubting themselves. It’ll take a quite a bit of mental resolve to push those negative thoughts out and get on with trying to perform for Ireland.”
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