Conor Murray admits complacency may have crept into Ireland camp in 2019
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By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 24/08/19 3:06pm
Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray has admitted that after a stellar 2018, complacency may have crept into the camp during 2019 as their performance levels dipped.
Speaking to Sky Sports and Rupert Cox exclusively on the latest episode of the Will Greenwood Podcast, the 30-year-old Munsterman reflected on heavy defeats to England and Wales in the 2019 Six Nations, after a 2018 in which Ireland won a Grand Slam, a series in Australia and autumn Test against New Zealand.
"It was tough. A really tough Six Nations," Murray said. "The standards we set for ourselves, we didn't meet them.
"We had a tough start against England after a near carbon copy preparation of what we're doing here now, out in Portugal, the mood in camp was really good and then we started really slow in that game and that kind of set the standard for the rest of the Six Nations.
"We seemed to be chasing games and chasing the Six Nations title the whole way through, so the feeling after was a frustrated one knowing we can give an awful lot more.
"The group is definitely experienced enough to get over that and realise why we lost - it wasn't the end of the world, it was a few little things that went against us that we weren't quite sharp enough on that cost us in the end.
"We didn't wallow in it, we tried to learn from it and get over it as quickly as we could and move forward.
"We've had nearly eight weeks now of a pre-season block and that (Six Nations 2019) is well and truly a distant memory.
"That's not to say that we won't reference it or try to keep on learning from the things that happened. We certainly will do that, but this group is in a good place, quite optimistic and looking forward to playing rugby."
Has such a year, during which huge positivity within Ireland around rugby has been replaced by uncertainty and degrees of pessimism, made Murray and co have a rethink?
"I think we might have thought we were in a different place to what we were," he said, "Maybe there was a small bit of complacency that crept in.
"Little things happened, and I say little things but they ultimately cost us games and scores, but in terms of fixing them, we'd review and they wouldn't happen again.
"This group again is an experienced group and we tend to learn quite quickly and move on from defeats and sometimes victories and be realistic with ourselves.
"Sometimes we get a bounce of the ball and it turns into a score and you get a massive win, and sometimes it doesn't turn out that way. One of the tries last year, we slipped and the ball dropped over the line and Elliot Daly pounced on it and scored. Some little things you can't control.
"You've heard it a lot, but control the controllables, that's what us and a lot of other teams are trying to do. Tactically, we might change a few things this time around.
"We'd hope that we are viewed as an adaptable team that can play in a variety of ways. One topic that came up last year was the aerial battle. Straight from the off against England, I thought we kicked quite well but we just got no access to the ball and that's the way the game is going now and the way it's being reffed.
"We're always seeking clarity in that department and maybe we'll have to change our tactic a little bit in that sense. And a lot of other teams will do too, because if you're not getting joy in a certain area you should try and change it and get joy somewhere else."
With Saturday's pre-Rugby World Cup Test against England at Twickenham, live on Sky Sports, the first time Murray and a host of other established Ireland starters will don the Ireland jersey since that disappointing Six Nations campaign, how important is it that they hit the ground running to silence the doubters?
"That's definitely one way of looking at it. I'd be lying to you if i didn't to say it was in my mind a little bit," he said.
"We've had our pre-season and we're looking to the future and all trying to be positive with the whole thing, and we are and it's going great, but in terms of being a competitor and wanting to do well and be the best you can be, the Six Nations and especially that last game against Wales was disappointing.
"And that was the frustrating thing: we could go back and play club rugby the next week but in terms of putting it right for Ireland we had to wait quite a while, and honestly, the motivation is there to play well and put it right.
"We had a massive year in 2018, but maybe it's a good thing that lessons have been learnt that it doesn't take much for it to go either way."
With the attentions of all rugby playing nations concentrated firmly on the World Cup in Japan next month, Ireland will look to create history and make it past the quarter-final stage of rugby's showpiece event for the first time ever - the only Tier 1 nation bar Italy never to have done so.
Does Murray dream about going all the way?
"Ireland not getting past the quarter-final is a fact and you've got to face it.
"This group and the quality we have in it and knowing what we can be capable of when we're ticking, we know we can get past that stage and go further, but there's a lot of work to do before we get there.
"I don't think it's a hoodoo, I don't think that's in this group's mindset and hopefully it won't be a fact too much longer.
"You'd be wasting your time if you were here for any other reason [than to win the Rugby World Cup].
"Every team going into this with a fighting chance can imagine themselves [lifting the trophy]. That's the dream, that's the pinnacle, that's what you want to do and that's why you willingly go through these pre-seasons with the chance to get on that World Cup stage and prove your worth.
"Yeah, we can definitely dream and who knows?"
England face Ireland on Saturday at Twickenham live on Sky Sports Action from 2pm and Sky Sports Main Event from 3pm. They also face Italy (September 6) in Newcastle as part of their Summer Internationals, all on Sky Sports.