Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt gave a positive update on Conor Murray’s fitness following the scrum half’s early departure from the Rugby World Cup warm-up match against England.
Conor Murray suffered a head injury towards the end of the first quarter at Twickenham, with referee Nigel Owens reacting quickly to stop play. There were obvious concerns as the Limerick man lay prone on the pitch and although he sat up and then sprinted off for a head injury assessment, he did not return to the pitch with Eoin Reddan playing on in his place.
Speaking after the 21-13 loss to the World Cup hosts, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt eased fears over Murray’s fitness with the Pool D opener against Canada now just a fortnight away.
“Conor’s good. He went through all the head injury assessment successfully, but because he was knocked down, it was pertinent to leave him off the pitch, so he sat out (the remainder of the game),” explained Schmidt.
“We were probably looking at giving him and Eoin Reddan about 40 minutes each anyway, so he’ll go through the return-to-play protocols which should see him fully fit for the start of the World Cup. Any time that happens, it counts as a concussion so that’s the way we’ll follow the return-to-play protocols.
“I think it’s been a long time since he had one (concussion). I think the severity was that…I don’t know if you saw him coming off the pitch but he was fine. I think one of the good things in the modern game is he’s removed from the pitch and stays off the pitch. I think going back 10 or 15 years, he probably would have just played on.”
Ireland had to shuffle their deck during a bruising second half with the forced exits of Jonathan Sexton and Simon Zebo (both cramp), allied to the extended use of the bench, seeing Nathan White fill the flanker’s berth at scrum time and Chris Henry and Ian Madigan spend time on the wing and at full-back respectively.
Schmidt confirmed: “Johnny and Simon both came off and were replaced because they were cramping up. I guess if it had been a different time and a different Test match not prior to a World Cup, then they may have stayed on and we have taken a risk with them, but there is an increased risk that they will sustain a muscle injury if they are cramping up so we decided to get them off.
“It wasn’t ideal, obviously, I think we ended up with Chris Henry on the wing, Ian Madigan at full-back for a while and then it just meant it was pretty awkward to make those replacements. For the second week in a row, we just ended up with guys out of position.”
Schmidt conceded that England had his men ‘under the hammer’ during a one-sided first half. Wingers Jonny May and Anthony Watson both touched down and a TMO decision denied May a second try which would have had Ireland further behind than 12-3.
Back-to-back defeats to Wales and England were certainly not part of Ireland’s script in terms of building towards the World Cup, but the management team are unlikely to start wielding the axe given the record of 13 wins in 15 Tests before today.
“I don’t think there’s too much panic from us. There’s always a nervousness, there’s always an anxiety, but over the last two years we’ve done enough to demonstrate we can hang in there and get results,” insisted the New Zealander.
“I think we try to be as global as we can when we look at performance. If someone’s made a mistake it’s because they are human. If they repeat the mistake and we see they need to work on that, they maybe work on that away from being selected the next time, and hopefully that can be remedied.
“But we wouldn’t really be trigger-happy about maybe tailing someone who’s made a few mistakes and saying that’s untenable and therefore we’re going to move you on.”
Schmidt praised his side’s scrummaging and the spirit shown in battling back to make it 15-13 via a Paul O’Connell try, before England secured the spoils with two closing penalties from Owen Farrell.
“We wouldn’t be the biggest team. We kind of have to dance around a bit to stay in the fight sometimes and we couldn’t get access to the ball in the first 25 minutes pretty much. We couldn’t get field possession. I think we snuck into their half one time and managed to kick a goal and, apart from that, they really had us under the hammer.
“They went through long periods of possession. I think it was probably our scrum that allowed us to hang in there in the first 25 minutes. We got a little bit of purchase a couple of times and probably wasted opportunities.
“We lost a five-metre lineout and turned a ball over just before half-time about five or six metres out from the line. Those are times that you can’t really afford to turn the ball over, but, in the context of being 12-3 down at half-time, and then with 15 minutes to go, we’re 15-13 down, it does probably reflect a little bit of the spirit in the side.
“They fought their way back into contention. We had to make a few late changes and that probably didn’t help and you can’t afford to allow teams of the quality of England to start to open you up again,” he added.