'Getting my neck right was much bigger than beating the All Blacks' - Conor Murray
No regrets for Murray after taking cautious approach with his injury comeback
In the end, the decision was a no-brainer for Conor Murray. The medical advice he had been given was such that rushing back from his neck injury could have had serious ramifications down the line, and while the prospect of potentially being part of the first Ireland team to beat the All Blacks on home soil was dangled in front of him, common sense prevailed.
Even allowing for the scale of Ireland's achievement last month, reflecting on his decision now, Murray recognises that his long-term health was far more important, particularly when it comes to an area as sensitive as his neck.
The scrum-half's fitness dominated much of the November agenda, with the Ireland coaches playing mind games as much as Steve Hansen.
For Murray, however, the scenario was much more straightforward as he was happy enough to bide his time with the long game, and the World Cup in particular, in sight.
"I suppose you could have pushed it and then you get a bang and it sets you back even more," the 29-year-old maintained.
"It was tough and frustrating to watch the lads playing in November, with the big win against the All Blacks as well - that's tough viewing.
"Obviously I was delighted for the lads, but ask any player who could have potentially been involved, it is tough to see too.
"At the end of the day, getting my neck right was much bigger than that, personally for me. I'm glad I took the time, I feel great now."
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As for potentially playing in the All Black victory, Murray revealed that he didn't have any conversation with Joe Schmidt about being involved.
"No, I wasn't named in the squad so I was in camp for the first week with a few of the lads when they travelled to play Italy - just doing a bit of work, but other than that, I wasn't in camp," the Limerick native continued.
"From my point of view, I was at home in Munster working on my rehab and getting back on the pitch and taking part in squad sessions.
"There was never really any chat. Obviously I was in contact with Joe the whole way through to see how the injury was but I didn't have a chance to play in that game."
Three games into his return, Murray has not felt an ill-effects from the injury, which is largely down to the cautious approach that he and the medical staff took.
There is a long season ahead and a fit and firing Murray is central to Munster and Ireland's chances of winning silverware in 2019.
"The body feels brilliant. The Castres game, personally and as a whole, there were good moments and there were sloppy moments too.
"I feel good. It's just adjusting to... not so much the pace, but pressurised rugby. I think the Castres game was stop-start. It was a bit sloppy from both sides so you didn't learn a whole lot about your match fitness. But I feel great at the moment."
While Murray is still working his way back to full fitness, he admitted that it hasn't been easy to park the injury and block out the fact that it was his neck.
"No, it's not (easy). I think you rep it as much as you can in training and go through that physical contact and that tackle entry.
"It's not until you play a game and you take a few belts without thinking about it and then you come through it and you get up and you're fine.
"It's not like a hamstring tear. It is your neck and I suppose you have that awareness of it. But we took the amount of time that was absolutely necessary to get it fully right. It's fully right now, thankfully. It's something I have to keep on top of in terms of prehab and stuff. It feels good."
The prospect of Murray playing alongside Joey Carbery for the first time in red was put on hold last week after the out-half picked up a hamstring problem, but the half-back pair should link up in Castres on Saturday, barring any further setbacks.
"It is exciting," Murray insisted.
"I have had limited game time with Joey with Ireland. He's going to be a massive player for Munster and Ireland for years to come. I can't wait to get going with him."
Munster got the job done at home last weekend, but the shared collective feeling around their high performance centre in the University of Limerick yesterday was that they left the bonus point behind them.
A very different challenge lies ahead in France, yet Murray feels that his side are close to clicking - even if Johann van Graan still won't be able to name his first-choice back-line with Chris Farrell ruled out.
"There was a bit of niggle in the game and it probably distracted us a little bit towards the end of the game when we could have pushed on and got a bonus point," he added.
"I definitely think we've taken steps forward from last year.
"Felix (Jones) does an unbelievable amount of work and I think the players, with the experience, they're taking a lot of control of it too and giving their input, trying to figure a lot of things out as well, so that's exciting.
"We have fired well throughout the season and what's frustrating and exciting about last week is, again, we didn't fire too many shots and left a lot of opportunities out there. We know we can fire a bit more."
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