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Murray: Ireland must get smart to smash the Boks

Irish ace has a positive mindset but wans against running into trouble

Ruaidhri O'Connor

There is a bubble around Ireland's team base outside Maynooth that protects the squad from negative thoughts.

It means that the once-a-day invasion of the press corps is a most unwelcome intrusion, bringing tidings of woe from the real world.

The Six Nations champions retain the belief that they can beat South Africa on Saturday even though they are down men, nursing bodies and coping without Brian O'Driscoll as the rampant Springboks roll into town on the back of a Rugby Championship win over New Zealand.

Conor Murray faced the media yesterday and what was notable during the barrage of worried voices was how assured and confident the scrum-half was.

Each concern was volleyed back with positivity, every reason that Ireland would struggle was met with a reason they'd cope and thrive.

It was reminiscent of the week last season between the Australia and All Black games when nobody gave Ireland a chance, but the players retained a confidence that went against the prevailing mood.

There was good reason for gloom then and there is good reason for doom now, but the players can't afford to let that seep into the dressing-room.

It is not a surprise that they have a belief, given they go into this series as Europe's No 1 team, coached by a proven winner who is known for his canny approach to games.

And, if Ireland are to beat the Springboks on Saturday night, they will need all of Joe Schmidt's nous to do so, given injury has robbed him of his most powerful ball carriers and is undermining the chances of parity at scrum-time.

The players will need to be clued on and ready to think on their feet. Without Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy there is no point in carrying the ball into the dark green giants.

"South Africa are a team with a lot of really big ball carriers, big hitters. Running through them is not something we'd want to do, we've got to be a bit smarter than that," Murray said.

"Even if Sean and Cian were here, you still probably wouldn't look to run through South Africa. I don't think it matters, I think we still have good ball carriers who can fill their shoes throughout the pack.

"Obviously, instead of carrying into a big man it's about stepping, finding a soft shoulder and being a bit smarter, maybe having a few micro-plays that we're looking to play just to drag them out of the line and to create a few softer gaps for us.

"It's rugby; this is a squad game and there's going to be injuries. We saw that last year, players got injured, others came in and got on really well in the team because the environment we have here is that everyone knows their detail."

Those 'micro-plays' are Schmidt's stock-in-trade, the tools the New Zealander uses to unlock those watertight defences.

They will come at opportune moments, but Ireland will also want to be clever about where they play the game and how much ball they allow Heyneke Meyer's side to possess.

Murray has become more and more of a French-style 'petit général' this season at Munster, where he controls much of the tempo of the game from the base of the ruck in the mould of Ruan Pienaar.

This week he may need to temper that control alongside the presence of Johnny Sexton but their partnership will be central to Ireland succeeding.

"Me and Johnny have been playing together for a while now," Murray said. "I think we can read each other a lot better than in previous years and that's just a relationship that's still growing and I'm enjoying working with him."

The quality of that understanding could prove crucial, given Ireland are coming together for the first time since June. South Africa have played eight Tests against top-class opponents in that period.

The Aviva Stadium has long been sold out for this one and there is no reason for false talk. Murray is speaking for a confident squad, one at odds with a fearful public. They may have excuses, but they don't intend to use them.

"I think there is a huge belief in the squad," Murray acknowledged. "That's driving on the standards. We're really looking forward to this challenge that's in front of us with the belief that we can do well."

The last time they went into a game in this mindset they were seconds away from their greatest result. Beating this Springboks team would be quite an accomplishment in its own right.

The odds are against a home win and few will put money on it, but the camp remains optimistic even if everyone else is not.

Belfast Telegraph

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