Friday 28 July 2017

Conor Murray: Leinster defeat at Connacht makes them even more dangerous

Munster’s Andrew Conway (L) and Conor Murray are put through their paces during training this week. Photo: Sportsfile
Munster’s Andrew Conway (L) and Conor Murray are put through their paces during training this week. Photo: Sportsfile

Conor Murray

We were away from the province for almost two months, and being back amongst the lads has been great. It's very exciting to come back into a positive camp.

Other than a few days back home here and there, we have been living in the pockets of the lads from the other provinces.

Now, the way the Pro12 table stands, and the way the fixtures have fallen for the rest of the year, there is a lot of pressure on every club to finish in the top six.

But it's an exciting place to come back to. The lads have told me there has been a good buzz around in the last few weeks. There is a positive vibe around the place again - the lads have been playing a lot of good rugby.

Leaving the squad, to go into Ireland camp, was tough. We had beaten Treviso when we were already out of the Champions Cup but there was a bit of a downer around the place seeing as we hadn't qualified.

When we left, things weren't great and credit has to go to the players who stuck together, stayed tight and worked their way through it. We're fourth at the moment - Glasgow have a game in hand - but it's still in our control.

Weeks

While there is so much to play for, if things don't go right in the next few weeks, not being in Europe next season is a possibility. It hasn't been said but the lads are well aware of that fact.

There are a huge amount of things to play for; top four and top six. We haven't discussed where we want to come in that but the priority is to secure our spot in the top six to wrap up Champions Cup rugby for next season.

There is a lot of competition there in the squad too; people coming back from international duty, lads returning from injury, and the players who have really impressed in recent weeks.

Yes, the end of the season is a bit different than what we were used to in the past but it's important that we get the next few weeks right and finish the season on a high.

Looking in from the Ireland camp at the game we missed, it was clear to see that the guys have been enjoying the style of rugby we are playing. Even last weekend against Zebre, it felt good to be back in the fold, getting a decent run out and playing my part again at Thomond Park.

We've had many a tough battle with Zebre in the past, and things ran away from them a little bit, but we were very happy to take the five points.

Myself and CJ Stander came on for the last 25 minutes but the damage had been done by then and it gave us a nice return to the Munster jersey. Tomorrow's game will be a different kettle of fish.

Looking at the Connacht versus Leinster game, you couldn't help thinking that it would be dangerous for Leinster to lose last weekend. That game will really stand to them, far more than us running in a few easy tries against Zebre.

They'll have a few more internationals back and they are already battle-hardened, so the mental challenge is there for us this weekend.

We know this is the real deal, we have to be at our best because they'll hit us with everything they have. They won't want to suffer back-to-back inter-pro losses, and they definitely won't want to lose twice in a row to us at the Aviva Stadium.

Back in the day, I went up to the first game in the Aviva, as a supporter. I was in the academy at the time, it was a full house, a night-time game and there was a huge buzz around. Leinster snuck it in the end that day but I was blown away by the occasion.

I really wanted to be a part of those big days, and thankfully I have been lucky to play in a few of those games there since. It's a treat to be going to the Aviva with the province at this time of the year, for a local derby, in what promises to be a great game.

After the match, I'm heading to Longford RFC for a training session with their underage teams on Sunday. It's an appearance in association with Dove and the Ireland team, so hopefully the young Leinster supporters won't have any ammunition to be slagging me with. These games mean so much to supporters and there are always afters with plenty of bragging rights.

You know when it's a big week; the players are in sour form, they are bouncing off each other and are focused on the weekend.

We had a few competitive sessions; players that were away for a few weeks were keen to lay down a bit of a marker and to show that they deserve their spot, while the guys that have had the jersey are desperate to hold on to it.

People will miss out, and people will be upset when they don't make the 23, but that's what we want. We want everyone to feel like they should be in there, for everyone to feel that they really have to fight to keep their place.

This time last year, we were written off ahead of our trip to Leinster and we ended up surprising them a bit. This season, there is a different feeling around the game. Neither of us qualified for the knock-out stages of Europe, but there are two really strong squads there.

Both teams are seeing a nice blend of youth coming into their teams too, so it really promises to be a spectacular battle.

While there is nothing like the buzz of a huge European game, this should be a quality occasion and we are looking to come out on top.

Irish Independent

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