Murray and Sexton: record-breaking partners and pals ... most of the time

For their 56th start together Ireland's half-backs take on the world's No.1 team in a World Cup quarter-final - and they would not want it any other way.

TOKYO, 18 Oct - Win or lose against New Zealand, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton will make history on Saturday as Ireland's most prolific half-back pairing - but their long-lived partnership got off to a rocky start.

"In the lead-up to my first World Cup in 2011, we'd had a few arguments on the pitch - but I suppose that's how you iron things out,” said scrum-half Murray, pictured above celebrating a try against Scotland with his halves partner Sexton to his right. 

"He was there for a while and I was probably learning on the go at that World Cup - and there was a bit of miscommunication. But since then it's been really fruitful. I suppose we've had ups and downs, but more often than not we've gone pretty well together."

Murray and Sexton will eclipse another famed duo, Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer, when they start together for Ireland for the 56th time, but right now the sole focus is on beating the All Blacks in Tokyo.  

Murray, who will win his 78th Ireland cap against New Zealand, is one of only two starting players in Joe Schmidt's team who did not feature when Ireland defeated New Zealand in November 2018, the latest chapter in what has become an enthralling rivalry.

"It's quite tough being there as a supporter," he said about that match when he was forced to watch from the stands because of a neck injury. "I knew going to that game there was a chance that the lads were going to do something special.

"It's a weird one to describe to people who don't play. You're obviously very happy for the lads but there's a side of you - a selfish side - that would have liked to have been involved, because you’ve been there before and you know the feeling of doing something special like that."

Whatever the outcome in Tokyo, he will always have Chicago. Murray played brilliantly in 2016 when Ireland beat the All Blacks after 111 years of often-agonising failure.

That 40-29 victory at Soldier Field, with Murray scoring the third of five tries, was about self-belief as much as history.

"Up to that point, there was always that doubt. You have a certain amount of confidence, then, just getting past that roadblock - that's how I'd describe it. It's a massive boost of confidence - it shows you that they're human.”

But after they beat the All Blacks for a second time, minus Murray, defeats by England and Wales in the Six Nations prompted suggestions that Ireland had peaked a year too soon in the World Cup cycle.

Murray, who also combined with Sexton for the British and Irish Lions to beat New Zealand in the second test of the 2017 series, disagrees.

"We had an honest review of that (Six Nations) and we've come through," he said. "I definitely think we're a better team than we have been and that's no surprise. That's the kind of environment we have - to push the limits and push each other, be honest with each other and try and get better.

"I'm really excited about this game. These are really rare occasions that you get to do this, especially against the All Blacks in a World Cup, and we need to have a good bit of confidence about us, because we've done it before. You just don't want to be restricted - you want to just go for it."

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