Saturday 25 November 2017

'I would be p**sing off a lot of people if I was going around sulking for nine months'

Murphy wants to help end Leinster’s trophy-less run after overcoming injury

Leinster’s Jordi Murphy remains impressively calm as he reflects on his nine months out of the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Jordi Murphy remains impressively calm as he reflects on his nine months out of the game. Photo: Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Cape Town

For a man making up for lost time, Jordi Murphy remains implacably calm as he reflects on his nine months out of rugby and his big ambitions for the season ahead.

He is 26 now and has effectively been out of sight and mind since he got the ball rolling in Chicago with a try and was then felled by his cruciate ligament. Soldier Field will always have a place in his heart, but it took its pound of flesh.

He is back now, almost a year later and older and is relishing his return to action. A patient patient, he was always confident that with diligent rehabilitation and an attention to detail that marks him out he could come back as good, if not better than he was before.

In Bloemfontein tonight, he is one of the senior members of the Leinster team looking to maintain their 100pc start to the season.

Last Saturday, he played his first competitive game since November against the Southern Kings having put together 80 minutes in pre-season.

Two minutes into the first game against Gloucester, he realised he hadn't thought about his knee. He did enough of that last season.

"I wasn't walking around with a mope on my face," he says of his period on the sidelines.

"I knew it was going to be a long one so I'd be p**sing off a lot of people if I was going around sulking for nine months!

"The morning of the Gloucester game I had that butterflies feeling in my stomach which was weird for a pre-season friendly but it was my first game in over nine months.

"After two, three minutes of the game, I realised I hadn't thought about my knee yet so that was a good sign.

"It was great to get out on Saturday, it was my first competitive game and it had a bit more edge to it.

"I was a little bit off but I've been told by anyone who's had it before it's one of those things, it's just about game-time.

"I'll be able to get back up to the level I want to be, it's just going to take a bit longer than I'd hope."

You could understand if his memories of Ireland's historic victory were tarnished by the resultant lay-off, but he still considers Chicago a career highlight.

"At the time it was bittersweet, it was incredible to be involved in what was probably Ireland's greatest victory because it had been so long, it was the first time - the atmosphere over there, all of the elements combined but then it was disappointing because I knew I wasn't going to be playing for the guts of eight, nine months after," he recalls.

"I accepted that pretty quickly and tried to reflect on it as positively as I could I was involved on the day, got the first 25 minutes and scored a try and it wasn't my career over, it was just a longer lapse than I would have ever hoped for.

"Now, I just look back on it positively."

A long spell watching from the sidelines has strengthened his competitive nature, but the Leinster production line didn't let up in his absence.

Tonight, Josh van der Flier - who replaced him in Chicago - wins his 50th Leinster cap, Rhys Ruddock and Max Deegan are on the bench, Dan Leavy has broken through, Jack Conan is a mainstay. Back home, Seán O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip are preparing to return, while Scott Fardy remains a world-class back-row despite his primary role at Leinster being in the second-row.

"The only way to respond to it is to up your game," Murphys reflects on the increasing competition.

"It's a conveyor belt, the Leinster back-row is the gift that keeps on giving.

You've to raise your game all the time and in the past I've probably disappointed myself in some ways when I've let my form dip at certain times and it's just one of those things you don't get away with at this level, it's such a competitive environment.

"So, hopefully I've learnt from that and I can keep high level, consistent performances the whole time."

That consistency, he hopes, will be rewarded in the coaches' trust - something he doesn't appear to always have had at Leinster.

There have been several times when he has been a regular in Ireland match-day 23s, but out of favour for the province's biggest games and he is determined that hitting a higher level on a more regular basis will see him into the starting back-row.

Achieving that level comes from the attention to the little details, he says.

"Lifestyle, nutrition, doing little stuff, work-ons," he adds.

"Certain back-row elements like my breakdown work or my lineout work - I'd always considered that to be a strength of mine from a back-row's point of view, working in the video room and making sure I've everything boxed off early in the week so I can let my playing do the talking when it comes to the game-day."

Murphy has entered his peak years and the season ahead is laced with possibility for club and country.

When he looks around at the young faces surrounding him in Bloemfontein tonight, he'll realise that he's a senior man now but he shrugs at the idea and says his focus is singular.

"I suppose I've quite a lot of caps for Leinster and a few for Ireland at this stage and I just want to double and triple them if I can," he says.

I'm not really thinking about my age at the moment. 26 is fairly young in my mind, but I've a lot of experience and I've been in this squad for a number of years and some Irish squads, so it's just trying to use that experience and going forward using it to my advantage."

The enforced break has, he says, done him good.

"I've come back now from nine months off, I feel fresh," he says.

"Before I got injured there's always those niggles - you've heard players say that you're never playing without some sort of injury, but at the moment my body feels in the best shape it's been in in years because I haven't done anything in so long.

"Hopefully I can use that to my advantage and have a long, strong season."

For Leinster, this season has a watershed feel to it as the combination of Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster gets a second go at things and they look to make the next step.

Semi-final defeats to Clermont Auvergne in Europe and Scarlets in the Guinness PRO14 undermined a year of progress and, according to Murphy, there is a determination to take the next step and end a three-season run without a trophy.

"We're feeling confident, optimistic. As a group, last year wasn't good enough," he concludes.

"We were playing some really good rugby and when it came to the crunch at the end of the season we didn't quite fulfil the potential that we felt we had.

"Hopefully the squad has gotten a season over, learnt from the past but we didn't start very strongly against both of those sides and it is something we're trying to learn from this season.

"We need to start faster and not give other teams the first 15 minutes and be reactive, we want to be proactive the whole time.

"We set really high standards for ourselves, we know the PRO14 final will be in the Aviva this season and that's definitely one of our markers, we don't want to fall short at the last hurdle again.

"With Europe, we're in it to win it. It's a cliché, but this squad is so ambitious, there's a lot of talent here and we want to be aiming for the top the whole time and anything less will be a failure for us."

Back in blue, Murphy wants to play a central role in it all as he makes up for lost time.

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