By Ed Elliot, PA, Tours
Scrum-half Conor Murray feels Ireland’s squad are “buzzing” and in “unbelievable nick” ahead of a pivotal Paris appointment with reigning world champions South Africa.
Andy Farrell’s men have underlined their status as Test rugby’s top-ranked nation by beginning the World Cup with emphatic bonus-point successes over Romania and Tonga.
But their credentials will be truly tested on Saturday evening when they face the formidable Springboks at Stade de France in Pool B’s standout fixture.
Ireland will assess hooker Dan Sheehan, back-rower Jack Conan (both foot) and prop Finlay Bealham (head injury assessment) before the visit to the French capital, with Murray excited for the step up in challenge.
“We feel great,” said the Munster player. “Going back to the pre-season we had, it was great. We feel fit. Most of the lads are in unbelievable nick.
“We have a couple of lads with knocks to come back and, when we get them, we will be absolutely buzzing.
“But we are buzzing already. The exciting thing is we want to see where we can take this team when the challenges get tougher and tougher.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 17, 2023
“We are playing good rugby and have things to work on as usual. The big tests are to come, but we feel good, we are ready to go.
“You have to embrace it. It’s going to be a massive challenge: world champions in a World Cup. It’s something really exciting.”
Murray started against Tonga in Nantes after backing up Jamison Gibson-Park from the bench in the Bordeaux opener against Romania.
The 34-year-old could this weekend come up against provincial team-mate Jean Kleyn, who represented Ireland at the 2019 World Cup before recently switching allegiance to his native country.
Murray insists there are no hard feelings over that decision but will be looking to steer clear of his towering former Test colleague on the field.
“He has been an unbelievable servant to Munster, so you’d wish him all the best,” he said of 30-year-old lock Kleyn.
“Players make decisions when they have opportunities and that’s the way the world is now.
“If I’m playing against him, I’ll just try and avoid him. He is a physical man, he loves that kind of carry on and he is very, very good at it, so, I’ll just try to avoid him, and we’ll have a chat after.”
— Rugby World Cup France 2023 (@France2023) September 18, 2023
Assistant coach Mike Catt says Ireland are fully aware of the threats posed by South Africa but concedes nullifying them is a different matter.
“They are playing a great brand of rugby at the moment, there is a real good mix of their physicality and their directness to their ability to move the ball,” said the former England World Cup winner, who was born and raised in Port Elizabeth.
“I think having Manie Libbok at 10, Damian Willemse at 15 and Willie Le Roux, they’re definitely putting the ball through the hands more and causing problems, big problems, for a lot of teams.
“We’re well aware of it, but still got to try and stop it.”