"If Murray is playing that first half for England, he's probably Man of the Match"
"We're going backwards and it's very hard for Murr, for Johnny to kind of get any foothold in the game..."
Two of Ireland's leading lights seemed to take the brunt of the blame after Ireland's 24-12 defeat to England in Twickenham on Sunday. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton were under pressure coming into the tournament after under-performing in Japan last year, notably the Munster scrum-half had a target on his back with the in-form John Cooney very much breathing down his neck. The pair were roundly criticised for their respective performances in Ireland's crash-back-down-to-earth loss at the weekend, but Ireland's second row James Ryan says the pack have to take the flak for making their half-backs' job so difficult.
Speaking this morning, just two days on from the bruising defeat, two words that keep rearing their head are "aggression" and "physicality", and how much England seemed to better Ireland in those departments. Lack of consistency across the game, lamenting a slow start and a modicum of pride in their second half fight-back also feature heavily, as Ryan delivered his verdict on the game before the official team review takes place tomorrow.
Ireland looked blunt in attack, particularly in the first half, shorn of ideas as the relentless England linespeed continuously knocked them back. Ryan fronted up and said he and the other forwards have to hold their hand up for their role in that;
"I suppose you've just got to be much more relentless with our physicality, with our aggression. But also probably our shape could have been better as well. We're not making the lives of Murr (Conor Murray) and Johnny (Sexton) easy as forwards when we're too slow to load off 9 and 10, so we're too slow to get set and then we are set it's just kind of one-off runner. So, you're feeding exactly into England's game plan, they want to get off the line and get stuck in and smash you. But if we're working harder and working earlier to get into position off 9 and 10, offering several options as opposed to one, what you're doing is you're giving the defence uncertainty, can we play front door or will we play out the back? But when we're kind of a bit slow to set and we're kind of giving that English defence certainty, we're going backwards and it's very hard for Murr, for Johnny to kind of get any foothold in the game when that's happening."
The nature of playing at 9 or 10 means that your performance is not only vital to the team's attack, but it's also where the majority of criticism lands when things don't go to plan. Was that the case on Sunday for Murray and Sexton; misplaced blame?
"Exactly yeah, 100%. Like, if Murray is playing that first half for England, he's probably Man of the Match, do you know what I mean? But unfortunately, we've got to look at ourselves as a forward pack. We've got to look at the physical exchanges there and, as I said, review it and hopefully we'll grow from it. Obviously another massive two weeks ahead after this week with a lot to play for still in the Championship. So, I've full confidence that we're heading in the right direction, and then we'll take on board the key messages from this game. It's obviously very disappointing, but nothing we can do now, we just have to learn from it."
Ireland will hope to get a positive update from the Six Nations today on whether or not the game against Italy will go ahead on Saturday week. That one is under threat due to an outbreak of Coronavirus in Italy that has seen a number of Pro14 and Serie A games called off for consecutive weekends. Following that, they will face Grand-Slam chasing France in Paris on the final day of the tournament hopeful of not only spoiling the party, but having one of their own should results go their way in the next two weeks.
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