‘All the ingredients you want are there to win things’
Ireland scrum-half insists Reds can push for silverware as he prepares for Leicester clash
Conor Murray was in the stands at Thomond Park when Leicester broke Munster’s great run in Europe in January 2007. No one had beaten the Reds in Limerick in the Heineken Cup prior to that, and back then the 17-year-old did not fully understand the significance of it all.
Current head coach Anthony Foley was a replacement in that 13-6 defeat, while Mick O’Driscoll started the game, and Jerry Flannery was also introduced off the bench.
Little did Murray know just nine seasons later he would be the fulcrum of this Munster side, as they look to turn around their disappointing form of late, and build on a winning start to their Champions Cup campaign.
“I remember that game. I was with a group of the lads and I just remember it being a very quiet Thomond Park that night. I probably didn’t understand as much as I do now,” he says.
“But it was just a weird feeling – you are used to the crowd going nuts and singing but there wasn’t much of that. Leicester are a side that know how to win in Thomond Park which is a rare attribute to have.”
If Murray recovers from the bruised bone in his foot, he will be the orchestrator of an exciting Munster backline. He has only played two matches for the province this season, with World Cup commitments and injury getting in the way.
But it is a measure of his influence from scrum-half that those two games were the thrilling 16-14 win against Edinburgh at Murrayfield and the clinical bonus point victory in their Champions Cup opener against Treviso at Thomond Park.
It is no coincidence either that Munster’s form has dipped dramatically in the intervening period. The clash with Stade Francais was postponed after the terrorist attacks in Paris, and subsequently Munster got stuck in a rut, falling to defeats against Connacht and Dragons in the Pro12.
Murray has played 75 times for Munster but he knows the next match is always the most important, and his 30th game in Europe will be vital.
“We are going to have to be very, very careful about how we approach this. These are the defining games in the pool. Your home games are absolutely crucial – we saw it last year with Clermont,” he says.
“We didn’t perform and ended up coming up just short at home. At the end of the pool, that’s what killed us, not beating Clermont at home when we could have.
“Leicester are a great side, with a lot of quality players. I know Ben Youngs quiet well, he is a great player and is going to be a big influence on their game-plan.
“It is going to be a really challenging two weeks but something we are looking forward to. There is a lot of attention placed on these games, and hopefully there will be a big crowd at Thomond Park to support us. With it being just before Christmas, there is always a good buzz around these European games especially.
“You want to be playing. They are the games you eye up, you look at and you hope you are involved. It is going to be great, but it will be a tough ask.”
Even after a difficult few weeks for the province there is still a burning desire for silverware.
They have the pedigree, and the international contingent have bags of experience winning things.
But it is difficult to ignore the dominant displays by the English and French clubs in this year’s competition. Leinster and Ulster have felt the full wrath of what the Premiership has to offer, but Murray doesn’t subscribe to these fears.
He just wants to focus on the ultimate prize, to replicate the great Munster team of ten years ago. They overcame similar adversity to fight back and claim two Heineken Cup in just three seasons.
Their inaugural success over Biarritz in Cardiff was tarnished by the loss to Leicester at Thomond Park the following season. But Munster bounced back and a little over a year later won their second crown with a 16-13 victory over Toulouse.
It was a devastating campaign last season when Clermont and Saracens put paid to Munster’s chances of advancing from the pool stages. But prior to that Munster had only been squeezed out in successive semi-finals against Clermont and Toulon respectively.
Murray is adamant they have what it takes.
“We don’t really worry about other Irish provinces when we go into European weeks,” he insists.
“We went into the Treviso game and got our job done and then we were working on Stade. We spent until Tuesday evening, when it was called off, preparing for them and analysing them.
“Now we are focusing on Leicester as an individual team. It is definitely for the wider public or the media to worry about anything else outside of the game.
“I know the feeling of winning things with the Irish team. I really want to do it with Munster again. It would just be, as good if not better with my home province because they are the guys you know the longest, and you really want to play for each other.
“All the ingredients that you want are there.
“But it is really about taking that step to next level where we are going to start challenging for trophies again.”