Rory Best has backed Conor Murray to thrive amid the pressure of facing Scotland with a target on his back.
Scotland have made no secret of their bid to bully Murray in this afternoon’s RBS 6 Nations clash at Murrayfield (2.25pm), a tactic Glasgow employed in Champions Cup action against Munster.
Murray reacted angrily to what he felt were cheap shots as Munster edged out Glasgow 14-12 on January 14, claiming the Warriors players targeted his standing leg every time he lined up clearance kicks.
Greig Laidlaw has vowed Scotland will follow Glasgow’s lead in singling out Murray - but Ireland skipper Best insists that will only draw an even finer performance out of the British and Irish Lions half-back.
“Just like every other player pulling on an Ireland jersey tomorrow, Conor will want to play to the best of his ability,” said Best.
“Conor wants to make sure that the pressure that will be on tomorrow, that he rises to it, and that it spurs him on.
“He just wants to perform on the day and rise to the occasion.
“What Scotland will or won’t do, that’s what they’ve been discussing in their team hotel for the last two weeks. All we can do is make sure that as a pack of forwards we create a platform for him.
“We’re all under pressure; we’re all under pressure to perform, and at this level you’re looking for every advantage you can get.
“The pressure on the nine, the pressure on the box-kick, it’s something that a quality player like Conor expects. He expects them to pressure him around that area.
“For us it’s about making sure that we cope with that pressure and we perform, and for him in particular that he’s able to perform his role and we make sure that we get a good enough platform for him to get his box-kick or his pass off well.
“We’ve got to give him as good a platform as we can.
“We all know how good a player he is, if you’re playing with for Ireland or against him when he plays for Munster.
“One of the biggest compliments you can give him is that you’d rather play with him than against him.
“He’s a quality nine, he’s a quality player, he’s shown that and backed it up time and time again this season, and what we’re asking from him is another one of those performances that he’s delivered regularly this season.”
Meanwhile, head coach, Joe Schmidt, believes Ireland are facing one of the strongest Scottish sides for some time.
“I think this is as close to full strength as they can be,” said Schmidt.
“I think Willem Nel is obviously a guy they’re missing, and that’s something that he’s come into and made his own, that tight-head spot.
“But gee, you can’t help but be impressed with the young Zander Fagerson and the way he has really grown into the role.
“It’s probably just this year, I think, they genuinely are better balanced than I’ve ever seen them.”
“To be honest, fair play to Vern Cotter, I think he’s done a really good job with them. How unlucky can you be that the last decision of a game doesn’t go your way and you’re not in a World Cup semi-final?
“Because that’s how close they were. That’s incredibly unlucky. .”
“So I don’t think anyone takes them easy, because they are so tough, and last year what was the score in the England game right at the start of the Six Nations?
“An England team that haven’t been beaten since then. They won 15-9.”