Conor Murray was delighted to be reunited with Andy Farrell at Munster this week but despite Farrell’s arrival as coaching consultant, the Ireland star insists there has been nothing lacking from the existing team management.
The appointment of the former England and British & Irish Lions coach to a part-time advisory role at Munster, before he takes charge of Ireland’s defence, has been seen in some quarters as a signal head coach Anthony Foley and his coaches are struggling to get the best out of the squad. Munster have been on a terrible run of form, that has seen the province dumped out of the Champions Cup after just four pool games and slip from the top of the Pro12 to fifth in the table.
Six defeats in Munster’s last seven games, culminating in a 27-7 loss to 14-man Stade Francais last Saturday in Paris, has seen Foley come under pressure from supporters and in the media in the final season of his initial two-year deal.
Scrum-half Murray, who worked with Farrell on the series-winning 2013 Lions tour to Australia, believes it is the players who need to take more individual responsibility for their current plight rather than let the coaching set-up take the rap.
“No, there was nothing lacking. Andy is going to look at our whole system, our defence, our attack and what can be improved on,” Murray said.
“And so, if you are talking about our own defence at the moment, our system is brilliant, we fully understand it, it comes to a point where it is the personal responsibility of each player.
“I said it in the review (of the Stade defeat), it is man-on-man tackles that are missed, one-on-ones that are costing us, gifting the opposition soft scores and then making it hard for us to score.
“The system and the structure is there. The coaches are doing everything they can. To have Andy in is just another boost for us. Apparently it has been in the pipeline for a while. It just seems as if it is a knee-jerk reaction, because of the timing. He might see things differently, have a different perspective and then maybe we will improve in different areas.”
Farrell’s appointment at Munster marks his first rugby activity since parting company with the England set-up following an awful World Cup exit for the hosts at the pool stage which prompted the dismissal of head coach Stuart Lancaster. With successor Eddie Jones hiring his own coaches, Farrell was snapped up by the IRFU to begin as defence coach after the RBS 6 Nations in preparation for the summer tour to South Africa and Munster have swooped to make the most of his talents in the interim, the former Wigan RL legend signing on for four months on a part-time basis, much to Murray’s satisfaction.
“From my personal experience with Andy, he has a great reputation as a player and a coach and that is massive. He is very well respected within the game. But as a person, to be able to talk to and approach, he is a very easy-going guy, not at all intimidating, although he might seem it. He is a great fella, he knows his stuff, he really gets you believing in what he wants you to do. So to have that fresh perspective, coincidentally at this time when we are struggling a little bit, it is a priceless asset for us to have at the moment.
“He makes everyone believe in his system, gets everyone buying into it, fully committed to it, and that is a huge talent to have as a coach, to get everyone into the same mindset. It was a huge tool for us on that tour. He nailed his job.”
Murray is well aware Farrell will not be the answer to all Munster’s woes and that for the most part, starting tomorrow afternoon when Stade make the reverse trip to Limerick, it is down to the players to right their wrongs of the past two months.
“There’s definitely a lack of confidence and that’s why this weekend there’s pressure on us. But at the same time there’s a little bit of pressure off us because we can’t qualify so we can go out and try and perform and start righting the wrongs and start fixing the few areas that haven’t been going so well.
“At the same time, we were embarrassed last weekend. I know they were French champions but we still had high hopes of performing a lot better and potentially winning the game and we didn’t go near those standards.
“We were outmuscled last weekend and that’s something that hurts us. We have looked back at other teams that went to French clubs and had huge away wins and looked at what they did and we’re not doing that at the moment. So it’s not for a lack of ability, it’s just a mindset at the moment I think.
“That chance in Europe is gone this year, it’s really frustrating but it’s our fault so we have to take responsibility for it and make sure we’re there again next year.”
** Munster yesterday made a change at front-row to their Champions Cup squad ahead of their final two games in Pool 4, adding academy and Cork Constitution tighthead Liam O’Connor and deregistering fellow 20-year-old JP Phelan.
The province also learned the date of their rescheduled Pro12 fixture at Cardiff Blues, postponed last weekend to accommodate the rearranged European tie at Stade Francais. The game will now go ahead at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday, March 18 with a 7:15pm kick-off.
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