Monday 26 September 2016

Murray: We are better placed to beat All Blacks

Published 09/09/2016 | 02:30

Students of Scoil Ide, Corbally (L-R) Stephen Kelly, Scott Grant, Liam O'Connell, Eoin McGurran, Jamie McMahon and Cian Costello with Conor Murray in Limerick yesterday
Students of Scoil Ide, Corbally (L-R) Stephen Kelly, Scott Grant, Liam O'Connell, Eoin McGurran, Jamie McMahon and Cian Costello with Conor Murray in Limerick yesterday

The last time Conor Murray sat in a Scoil Ide classroom talking about one day playing against New Zealand, he was writing in his primary school yearbook that his dream job was to be a professional rugby player.

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That was 2002, and 14 years later as he returned to his alma mater, Murray is now facing the prospect of playing the All Blacks five times in the same season.

A lot has changed since then, both in Murray's life and in the Limerick school. During our conversation, 50 students are patiently waiting outside for a training session with the scrum-half but back in his primary school days, rugby wasn't on offer.

Instead, Scoil Ide was mainly a GAA-driven school and Murray himself represented them in the Primary Game, but nowadays rugby takes precedent and the numbers continue to grow.

"I've done a good few media gigs in Dublin, the Aviva and all these kind of places and it just feels a bit weird being here," Murray admits.

"I don't think I've been back here since I left. It's strange but nice. They have a rugby pitch set up now which is cool. There wasn't much rugby when we were students here.

Stone

"We were only allowed play soccer in the yard with a stone or something. Even a tennis ball used to get confiscated so we used to play with a stone, which was a bit more dangerous! It's nice to come back and have those memories flooding in."

Murray is due back for Munster's trip to the Dragons next weekend and even though another gruelling season lies ahead, it is one that he is relishing.

Two November Tests against the All Blacks will not only provide Ireland with two chances of finally getting their first ever win over them but it also gives Joe Schmidt's players the chance to impress ahead of next summer's Lions tour of New Zealand.

Barring a disaster, Murray will be part of Warren Gatland's touring squad and while the scrum-half is putting those thoughts to one side for now, Ireland's upcoming Tests are very much on his mind.

Murray's was a try scorer in 2013's last-gasp defeat to New Zealand but he believes that Ireland are now in a better place to topple them for the first time.

"Joe was only starting with us when we nearly beat them and I hate saying that because we lost to them," he says.

"But now we have three and a bit seasons under our belt with Joe. It was only after the game that we thought 'wow we could have beaten them, look at these little mistakes we made that are completely in our control'.

"If we hadn't made them, we would have kept them out of our half to close out the game.

"We're definitely a smarter squad. The belief is definitely up. I think South Africa was a massive tour for us, particularly for the younger players coming in and proving themselves. We have guys with 50-plus caps to come back and add their weight as well.

"With Andy Farrell coming on board, there are loads of positives to build on.

"The World Cup is something to learn from as well. We learnt a lot from the Argentina game. It was one of the hardest defeats I've ever had to take.

"I don't know if we were favourites but there was an expectation to get to the semi-final and we didn't. We learned why that happened and I think we understand a bit more.

"If you look at the squad, there is way more caps there, way more experience than there potentially was back in 2013. People were still starting out and trying to find their feet under Joe.

"Everyone knows what's required of them now. It's a good system to be in. I mentioned the All Blacks, they just keep producing. Not that we're eyeing ourselves like them but that is the kind of system Joe has put in place.

"If you're outside the group, you need to know your detail in case you're needed to step in. The machine keeps going."

The World Cup champions have been in scintillating form in the Rugby Championship thus far but Murray is adamant that they are not they unbeatable force that many make them out to be.

Ireland have waited so long for a first victory over the All Blacks that it has become a mental block but the 27-year old is relishing two cracks at them next month.

"When they came to Ireland in 2013, people were saying the same thing, that they were the best team in the world," he recalls.

"I had played them three times before. We came close once in Christchurch and the other two times we got quite well beaten.

"I definitely think they're beatable. A lot of things have to go right on the day. In 2013, we shot out of the blocks and scored three tries pretty early. We had a great lead and didn't manage to hold on to it.

"I've come close twice and other Irish teams have come close a number of times. You definitely have to believe you can beat them."

A far cry from the daydreaming days in Scoil Ide, Murray's dream has well and truly become a reality.

Conor Murray took part in a training session in Scoil Ide with Life Style Sports to celebrate the #MunsterRising socks campaign.

Irish Independent

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