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Six Nations: Ireland can't let England get revenge and crash party, warns Murray


Driving factor: Conor Murray saw the haunted faces of England players when Ireland crushed their Grand Slam bid last year
Driving factor: Conor Murray saw the haunted faces of England players when Ireland crushed their Grand Slam bid last year

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

The shoe is on the other foot.

Having pooped the English party in 2001, 2011 and 2017, this season it's Ireland who go to London with everything on the line against a dangerous opponent with pride on their agenda.

Dylan Hartley and co. put on a defiant face last season as they lifted the trophy in front of a rapidly emptying Aviva Stadium, but the hollowness of their victory was clear.

It is a strange quirk of the Six Nations system, if you lose the Grand Slam chance in the early rounds then a title win can still be sweet. If you win the title and lose the Slam on the final day, it's a very different story.

Like all of their Celtic brethren, Ireland have enjoyed their role in derailing the Chariot on the final day.

Conor Murray was injured last season as Ireland crashed the party, but he remembers looking at the haunted look behind the English smiles and doesn't want to feel the same way this weekend.

"That's something you don't want to do. You want it to all go well and be full of joy at the end of the game on Saturday," he said. "What happened with England last year was fantastic for us, and the way they celebrated, the air was a little bit out of their tyres. That's not something I'm thinking about.

"I'm not thinking about the trophy or the presentation or anything like that. It's about going over to Twickenham and putting in a performance that puts you in a position to win.

"The way we reacted on Saturday when we knew we had won it, it shows a lot about the group.

"Then everyone is back in this week, excited, recovering well, ready to train and get stuck into the week.

"It's a massive week, an exciting week, a challenging week, but a week you dream of. You don't want to leave any stone unturned this week.

"There is one thing there, the trophy is there, that performance against England away is as big, if not bigger. Genuinely, and that's the way the group feels.

"There is going to be a lot of distractions, there is going to be a lot of people looking for tickets and all that kind of carry on, and it's just about not worrying about that and focusing on the rugby, which is what we're here to do.

"And all that hype and distraction can take care of itself. We don't need to worry about it."

Murray believes the nature of last Saturday's title win will work in Ireland's favour.

Winning the tournament while sitting in a post-match banquet room watching England's loss in Paris meant they didn't have the high of an on-pitch celebration with all of their fans in a packed stadium.

Instead, they congratulated one another and then moved on quickly to the task of finishing the job.

"If we had won it and there was a lot of celebration on the pitch, then it would have been a lot more difficult this week," he said. "The fact that we won it while we were sitting down having dinner and there wasn't that much celebration, I think it actually shows the mentality of the group, that we want something a little bit more.

"It's obviously fantastic, it's a massively proud achievement to win a Championship. At the end of it all, whether it goes good or bad, we'll be very proud of that.

"But yeah, I think it focuses us for the week ahead and what we need to do and what we want to achieve, and that's obviously a Grand Slam."

Now a three-time Six Nations champion and a two-time Lion who has a series win and draw to his name, the Munster star is hungry for the biggest prize available in European rugby.

"It would be up there, it would be right at the top," the Munsterman said. "Thankfully there has been a few really good days in big games - amazing feelings - this is going to be massive.

"Just from chatting to a few lads who have won a Slam, you know the couple of Championships we won in 2014 and 2015 were unbelievable and the buzz was great, the sense of achievement was massive but this is another level.

"This is something different. This is something that hasn't been done all that often, twice I think, so it is going to be up there if it goes well, it would be right up there."

Murray watched the 2009 Grand Slam with some of his U20s colleagues at former Leinster centre Eamonn Sheridan's house having just returned from Wales where they had played the night before.

The enormity of the achievement was not lost on a group of young players that included Peter O'Mahony.

"You look back to all the big Ireland victories when you were younger, looking on the telly or in the stands, and it drives your desire to be there," he said.

"And that's probably what feeds a lot of us from when we were younger, seeing it and wanting to achieve it, and putting the work in for it, seeing those great days.

"And then when you get in and you chat to the lads, like Rob (Kearney) and Rory (Best) and a few of the lads who have gone from Ireland now, chatting to them about it, they're special days and you create a bond for life with the people you do it with. It's massively inspirational."

Saturday is a chance to join those players in the annals of Irish rugby history.

Murray is embracing the challenge.

"It's a really exciting week. It's the days you dream of being involved in. We're going to be looking forward to it," he said.

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