Tuesday 18 December 2018

'It is a bit scary up there, I kicked a few fellas in the private areas when we were practising'

Murray relishes big Euro games as Munster’s Mr Versatile adds place-kicking and lineout jumping to his arsenal

Conor Murray during a Munster Rugby press conference. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray during a Munster Rugby press conference. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Is there anything Conor Murray can't or won't do? Already a world-leading scrum-half and Test Lion, Ireland's scrum-half keeps adding strings to his bow and must be vying for the title of the most complete player in the game here right now.

Over Christmas, he revealed a talent for lineout jumping as Munster threw him up twice against Leinster and came away with scores both times.

Then, last weekend, he was kicking goals from long range against Racing 92 and if his team-mates had held their nerve during an exciting last 10 minutes in Paris he might have come away as the hero of the hour.

The kicking is a long-time, if rarely used, attribute that the 28-year-old has, but the lineout jumping is a relatively unfamiliar one.

As anyone who has ever lifted from behind knows, there was some collateral damage along the way but the results in the end were good.

"Billy Holland and the lads that run the lineout normally come up and ask me something and I normally refuse first off," he explained.

"They then have to convince me to do it. I did it when I was younger at Young Munster, against UCC I think. It came off. Like the kicking at goal, if it's something that will help the team, I will do it.

"It is a bit scary up there, I kicked a few fellas in the private areas when we were practising, but I eventually got the hang of it.

"It nearly came off against Leinster, CJ Stander nearly got over and we managed to get over a couple of phases later."

During the last Super Rugby season, lineout innovation saw All Black full-back Jordie Barrett jumping in the lineout for the Hurricanes and as a student of the game, Johann van Graan has brought some similar innovations to Munster.

It's all part of trying to confuse the opposition in the increasingly structured world of rugby.

"I think defences are so good now and the analysis that teams do on each other these days is massively important and it is really clear when you are going into a game that you have an idea of what kind of moves they are going to play," Murray said.

So if they throw up something different, they might catch a team off guard and that is the plan - to try and stay one step ahead of players and teams and try and get the upper hand in whatever way you can."

Given opponents have seen him soaring high, taking the hooker's throw, Munster might have to shelve the lineout move for a while, but it is likely we'll see more of Murray standing over the kicking tee.

He kicked regularly for Garryowen before concentrating on the scrum-half basics while coming through for Munster and Ireland, but has kept the practice going before training sessions and games.

Neil Jenkins encouraged him to keep it going on the 2013 Lions tour and he stepped up in Chicago when Johnny Sexton was receiving treatment last year.

And with Van Graan's blessing, he has begun taking long shots at goal for the province.

"I do enjoy it, when I was younger I kicked in school and for Garryowen in the AIL," he said.

"I kept it up when I came into the Munster squad, but obviously ROG had the kicking looked after there.

"I put it on the back-burner and always had a little tip away at it.

"Yeah, I suppose in that environment it's a really enjoyable challenge to get a big kick like that. It's something you would enjoy, yeah."

Although much of the rugby coverage this week has been focused on the controversy surrounding Gerbrandt Grobler - who will play for the 'A' side tonight - Murray and the Munster squad have had their eyes trained fully on Castres on Sunday at Thomond Park.

The French side are not known for travelling well, but their coach Christophe Urios was quick to take aim and fire a volley of verbal shots at those who questioned their commitment to the Champions Cup after their win over Leicester last weekend.

That result means that if Castres can beat Munster and deny them a bonus point, they'll finish ahead of the Irish province.

Whether or not that seems likely, it is almost certain to at least hold the interest of a team who have already drawn with the Reds this season and are third in the Top 14.

Certainly, the prospect of a must-win encounter is whetting Murray's appetite.

"If you are bogged down by this kind of game or atmosphere coming up, then it is not for you," Murray said.

"I think a load of lads in the squad are going to relish this week. It is a home European game at Thomond Park. Hopefully, it will be close to a sell-out.

"We know our fans are going to show up for us. It's in our own hands. That is the carrot there for us. They are the games you want to play in.

"We probably never do it the easy way, but it is a massive week, it is a European week in Limerick and everyone loves these weeks.

"I love the buzz around it, I love training in these weeks. I love the hype and the build-up.

"However, many other lads there are, we are all in the same mindset. It is a good week to be around."

Whether that applies to the focus they've been under is questionable, but on the pitch the stakes are high.

If it comes down to a long-range penalty, Murray will step up and Munster fans will know they're in good hands.


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