'Every game is potentially a knockout game' - Jordi Murphy
Tackling French giants whets back-row’s appetite after such a long spell on the sidelines with devastating cruciate injury
Jordi Murphy has always stood out on the rugby field. Whether it was tearing it up in Blackrock College colours in the Senior Cup, in the RDS with Leinster or most recently in green in Chicago, the Spain-born back-row hasn't had too many issues grabbing the headlines.
Sadly the headlines dried up last year as an ACL injury picked up shortly after scoring a try against the All Blacks in Chicago robbed him of his season. But he's back, feeling good and looking forward to making more headlines.
"The lungs have finally caught up with the legs," he laughs as he sets his sights on another key step on the road back.
Leinster welcome Montpellier to the RDS Arena tomorrow and it was against the same opposition that Murphy played his last game in the Champions Cup for Leinster.
He missed out on plenty of good times last season. And more importantly the chance to banish some ghosts.
"I go back to Toulon in 2015 when we reached the semi-final for my last positive experiences in Europe.
"Ultimately we came up short but that was a great campaign and people forget just how close we were to making it to a European final.
"Whereas the season after we obviously fell well short of the standards that we set for ourselves in Leinster.
"Five losses from six games just isn't the standard for a club like Leinster. A proud home record too in Europe and that came unstuck against Wasps big time in the first game and we were playing catch up after that.
"So last season we were all so keen to make up for those games, to make an impact on the European stage and apart from that one game against Montpellier, it was hugely disappointing for me to miss out."
Instead, he put his mind to an extensive rehabilitation programme and with four games now under his belt this season it's full steam ahead for this weekend and indeed the challenges that lie ahead.
"Up until last year three months was maybe the longest I had missed so did I underestimate the effort needed or the impact? Possibly. But you can do all the running in the world on a pitch, you just can't replicate someone coming at you at full tilt weighing 18 stone or whatever.
"As I said the lungs took a while to catch up with the legs but we're getting there and I felt really fresh last weekend against Munster and I'm looking forward to the game now on Saturday and building again."
The game against Edinburgh in Round 5 was also a first start for Murphy in the RDS in almost 13 months and he capped it off with a well-taken try.
"The respect the RDS faithful have for the Lansdowne FC clubman was clear for all to see as they rose to acknowledge the achievement. All that pain, all that work; finally just reward. More of the same on Saturday would be good but this is a different beast coming to the RDS, well-resourced and building something special.
"Last season we had to fight extremely hard to get the losing bonus point when we played them over there but we saw in that game what you can't do against them.
"So there were lessons for us there. They have kicked on again this season under Vern Cotter and the players they have signed would add to any team but why else do you play in Champions Cup games? If you want to be the best you have to play the best, don't you?
"I think previously you could maybe target games in Europe but you can't do that now with the new format, less teams and meritocracy from each league. Now every game is potentially a knockout game because there are no guarantees next game up. Every team is there on merit.
"We've got three teams in our pool that are at the top or near the top of their leagues. We've got the English champions, we've got the PRO12 champions from three seasons ago and a French team that are building for a big tilt at domestic and Champions Cup campaigns. We're under no illusions but I don't think they'd be too happy about drawing us either."
This is now campaign number seven for the 26-year-old and while he would still be considered one of the 'young lads' there are now even younger lads in the Leinster dressing-room.
"Yeah, I've seen in the match programme lately the numbers creeping up and when you think of the players that have played 100 times for Leinster…their names are all up on the wall in the Centurion Bar in the RDS and it's just a list of a who's who of Leinster Rugby.
"All that they have achieved over the years. Obviously I still need to get there and I'm a bit off yet but having gone through last year I certainly appreciate it all the more. Seven seasons has gone in the blink of an eye."
Things are going well for Murphy on the pitch again but off the pitch there has been significant upheaval. Having offered Robbie Henshaw a haven after his move from Connacht, the Athlone man has taken the bold step of moving out and finding his own residence.
"Yeah, a big move for him. On the pitch he's a hugely competitive player but off it he's completely different, very laid back. He's the mediator of the house so he's been a calming influence and will be missed. But he had to grow up sooner or later so it's great for him!"
Murphy has also done some growing up of his own. Last weekend against Munster he couldn't be missed with the bright pink pair of boots on his feet as he thundered into wave after wave of Munster men.
There might have been a time when such a bold statement would have marked him out for all the wrong reasons but this is a different Murphy, a more circumspect Murphy and all for a good cause.
"October is breast cancer awareness month so Under Armour approached me about wearing pink boots to raise additional awareness. I was delighted to.
"I don't think there are many of us that haven't been directly affected by cancer or know someone who has and if this gesture, as simple as wearing pink boots, helps boost that profile and helps remind people to get checked, then I'm happy to do just that."
The pink boots will be back tomorrow and when Murphy gets the nod the 17-times capped Irish international, will be ready to go.
"I feel I'm now at 90-100pc of where I want to be. The challenge that awaits is something that we all look forward to."
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