Conor Murray believes it is a measure of the growth of the Ireland team under Joe Schmidt that there was an element of disappointment to their 18-11 RBS 6 Nations win over France, and says they will need to improve once more for the upcoming visit of England.
Ireland relied on the place-kicking accuracy of Jonathan Sexton and his replacement Ian Madigan to shoot down the French at the Aviva Stadium, as they failed to score a try for the first time since the November 2013 defeat to Australia.
Joe Schmidt’s side threatened the French try-line on a couple of occasions but errors cost them, and Conor Murray and the rest of the squad will look at areas for improvement before the English arrive in a fortnight’s time.
“We had a one or two good chances to get over the line and just put down that final pass. That was a little disappointing but the French are a really good squad and we got the result in the end,” said the Munster scrum half.
“There are certain parts of our game that are really good and in terms of territory we played really well. We had a few kicks that went a little bit long from a host of us which is disappointing, but we got the win and we will reassess and look forward to England.”
With Ireland almost out of reach at 18-6, France got their reward when replacement Romain Taofifenua touched down with just under ten minutes remaining. That led to an edgy finale, with the French throwing the ball from side to side, but Trojan defensive work saw Ireland hold firm.
Murray feels that without the effort in getting good line speed and players putting their bodies on the line, particularly the 13 forwards who saw action, it might have been a different story.
“A win against the French is always nice. We have a bit of stuff to look back on. Defensively, first and foremost, I thought we did really well to hold them out. They were in there, a very tight game at certain stages of the second half, and eventually broke through us and got a score.
“If it wasn’t for such good defence out of the lads in the front line for the rest of the second half, it could have been a lot worse. A lot of credit needs to go to them for getting off the ground, getting off the line, and they kept making those tackles.”
Saturday saw Murray reunited with his regular Ireland half-back partner Jonathan Sexton and the two played a key role in masterminding the seven-point success, with Sexton’s 15-point contribution and precise kicking out of hand earning him the RBS man-of-the-match award.
Murray praised the out-half for not shying away from the intensity of the game and in doing everything to get that bit extra out of himself, as he returned from his 12-week concussion lay-off.
“As I said during the week, Johnny is a huge leader in the team and having him back is always going to be a positive. It is going to add and bring something to the group. He got man-of-the-match, kicked our points and put us in really good areas throughout the game. Naturally, it is a good thing to have him back,” added the 25-year-old.
“There was talk about that (Mathieu Bastareaud targeting Sexton), but Johnny is a big lad. He’s well able to look after himself and he doesn’t shy away from anything like that. If he heard that during the week it probably revved him up a little bit more, to get a bit more out of himself.”
Murray spoke about getting into positions for him to charge down clearances. It is all about timing his runs ‘a little better’ to put pressure on the kickers. The rewards of the work put in at training were seen as he blocked down Italy’s Andrea Masi in the Championship opener and he was inches away from another block against France. It is all about putting pressure on the opposition, while he has been working on Ireland’s own exits and kick chase to a large extent.
Expanding on his approach to box-kicking and working in tandem with his chasers, he said: “It’s an exit strategy for the team. If we have a lineout just outside the 22, we might go to a maul and if that collapses we might set up a ruck and take another phase. Just have a winger or full-back ready to chase with a good line of support on the outside. And just make sure we are on our feet and ready to put pressure on the ball in the air.
“(Against France) some of them were contested in the air, some were a little bit long and the lads tackled man and ball for the majority of the game. I know one in the second half, down the left-hand side, they managed to get away and put us under a little bit of pressure.
“The majority of our exiting was quite good but there’s one or two that probably won’t be good enough against England that we will have to go away, work on and make sure our game is a little bit better than it was.”
The two-week gap between matches gives Schmidt’s charges the chance to draw breath and prepare well for England. Murray spoke of the continued room for improvement in the squad as they come up against the only team to beat them in their last 12 Tests.
“England last year was a very tight game. A one-score game, 13-10 the final score. It’s going to be a really hard-fought, intense game and we are going to have to lift it up again. Like I said, one point, being a bit biased on my job or role, is our exiting needs to be a little bit better.
“We need to be able to contest the likes of Mike Brown, Anthony Watson and Jonny May in the air. If they get long balls kicked to them and they run it back, they can be lethal. That is one area that will have to improve and I’m sure Joe will find us a few more things to work on.”