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Ireland's predictability is doing Conor Murray a great disservice | Justin Marshall

Ahead of Ireland's World Cup quarter-final clash with New Zealand, the former All Blacks scrum-ha...



Rugby

Ireland's predictability is doing Conor Murray a great disservice | Justin Marshall

Ahead of Ireland's World Cup quarter-final clash with New Zealand, the former All Blacks scrum-half Justin Marshall discussed the distinction between Conor Murray's form in 2018 and 2019. 

Widely considered one of, if not the, best scrum-half in world rugby as 2018 came to a close, Conor Murray has yet to reach such heights in this decisive year for Ireland's World Cup hopes.

"He's a high-quality player and he is world-class," admitted Justin Marshall in conversation with Off the Ball. "On his day, he's capable of causing lots of teams big headaches because of his intelligence."

In tandem with Johnny Sexton at #10, Ireland's first-choice #9 was instrumental as Joe Schmidt's side defeated the likes of England, Wales and New Zealand in what was an unforgettable 2018.

Yet, as the World Cup reaches the quarter-final stage this weekend, question marks regarding Conor Murray's effectiveness and the cause of any drop-off persist.

"I think what has happened with Ireland is that they've become predictable," noted Marshall of a general downturn in form.

"Conor Murray got given the mantle of 'best scrum-half in the world', but a lot of the plaudits that were coming his way were about his control of the kicking game.

"So, then teams analysed it and found his idiosyncrasies - when he gets set to kick, where does he normally kick, what areas does he want to put it in - their back-3 adjusts, wingers adjust and they get used to it and expect what's coming."

Such a suggestion on Justin Marshall's behalf hinted at the limitations put upon a team that Murray remains central to.

While Joe Schmidt's systematic approach undoubtedly developed aspects of Murray's game, Marshall argued that the same systems have now gone too far in their control of the Munster man's role.

"Proportionately, the balance in his gameplan is out," noted Marshall. "He's ultimately become more of a kicking scrum-half than having all of it together as a balance; defence, a running game, a passing game and the kicking.

"He's gone 70% to being a kicking scrum-half and I don't think that has been good for his game.

"He's got a great running game, but you don't see it now because he is used so regularly as a kicker."

From his own experience as a scrum-half with the All Blacks, Justin Marshall speculated upon the difficulties this must bring for Murray.

"I know myself when I wanted to get in the game," he recalled, "I wanted to take a couple of steps, bring a defender in and put someone in a hole.

"He's still a quality player and he's got it in him, you just wonder what messages he's been given on how to play out there.

"When he was at his best he was running, kicking, passing and involved in the defence.

"He gets over the ball really well and had a real multi-purpose game. Now, its become a bit too predictable."

You can watch Justin Marshall's pre-match chat with Eoin Sheahan in Japan here

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All Blacks Conor Murray Ireland Irish Rugby Football Union Joe Schmidt Justin Marshall New Zealand

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