Murray urges next generation to seize moment of truth
THE energy and hunger of the emerging core of young players within the Munster camp is what should drive them to victory on Sunday.
There is a new generation beginning to exert their authority and influence on the squad and chief among that group is Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray. He is indicative of the rising breed of warrior; utterly fearless, hugely ambitious and absolutely bathed in confidence.
Simon Zebo, Murray, Peter O'Mahony and Dave Kilcoyne have been threatening to take Munster rugby by storm since breaking into the team and see Sunday's game against Racing Metro in Thomond Park as the perfect opportunity to announce the changing of the guard.
"That's exactly how it is," said Murray. "There is a new group of players here and there are some older players pushing on and we need to take responsibility. This is probably our biggest chance to set the tone for the future."
The task on Sunday is made all the more difficult because of the continued absence of the talismanic Paul O'Connell. That Ronan O'Gara is also a doubt for the game – his disciplinary hearing is today – increases the burden on Murray and his team-mates to inspire.
"To be honest it is going to be one of the biggest games we will have played for Munster to date, so that carries nerves with, it but it is exciting," said Murray.
"There's already a lot of stuff on Twitter with fans getting ready for the game and a huge level of support there for us, so yes obviously there's going to be pressure, but it should be a great day out, you're excited by the fact that if you do perform it's going to be a huge day.
"And if we're going to be missing another more senior figure (O'Gara) it's going to be on us that bit more. But that's challenging and exciting and if there's pressure on us, it means it's an important game and if you do perform, you're going to enjoy the rewards from it."
The reward for a Munster win could be Heineken Cup quarter-final qualification. Munster have only failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition once in modern times and a last-eight finish is, as Murray acknowledges, the minimum requirement every season.
"Absolutely it is. Look at the record through the years, Munster have qualified more often than not out of the pool and that (desire) is no different this year no matter how many changes are in the team or how many are missing, that's what we're aiming for.
"There is no talk of an evolution period anymore. If you go back a year ago we were talking about new guys coming into the team.
"We've had a year, we've had plenty of games together, we know how we want to play, we're comfortable enough to give out to each other if things aren't going right, if people aren't pulling their weight, so that's no excuse.
"This is a huge chance for us, a huge moment. We need to take it."
Munster's approach will have to be a lot more ambitious this weekend. In all probability they will need to secure a bonus-point win over Racing Metro. Murray is absolutely confident in their ability to do that.
"We are creating chances. We scored two tries – one a penalty try – against Edinburgh, but we created five or six more opportunities.
"They were clear-cut chances that we didn't execute on the back of doing all the hard work due to the final pass, or the final decision, going wrong on the day.
"If we get it right this week – we have to get it right this week – we'll be in a good place. I don't think there's any issue where the tries are going to come from, I think we're creating good chances. We just have to finish them off."
There has been a discernible change in the way Munster have been playing the game lately. They are no longer slavishly following the directive to seek width with every play and are, as Murray pointed out, incorporating more of Munster's traditional values in their approach.
"At the start of the year we were going quite wide a lot of the time, but in the last two months we've started including a bit of our old style game of going through the middle of teams and confronting them physically close in.
"I think that's crept into our game on purpose in the last month or two, which is obviously aimed towards my strengths as well, so I'm happy.
"We've included more plays off the scrum-half position and we have a good mix in our play at the moment.
"We're confident that we are getting the balance right now and we will hopefully move forward with that this weekend and secure a place in the quarter-finals."