Friday 24 November 2017

Tour will make us a tighter unit - Murray

Scrum-half aims to put Munster's poor year behind him in South Africa

Conor Murray pictured at Longford RFC (INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Conor Murray pictured at Longford RFC (INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

On Saturday, Conor Murray had some of his Munster team-mates over to watch the rugby. It was a painful experience.

The experience of watching the scenes in Galway are the latest additions to the file marked 'Motivation for 2016/17' for the Ireland scrum-half who is bitterly disappointed with how this season panned out.

Amid the bleakest of bleak days in January when Munster were heading out of Europe, it was Murray who was willing to go to bat for the organisation. His contract was up but despite another year of underachievement, he came out and said he was committing his long-term future to the cause.

He backed that up by signing a three-year contract with the IRFU. Arguably the second-best scrum-half in the world, he had options but he backed the red jersey and next year he hopes that investment will pay off.

Even when the European exit was looming, Murray couldn't have envisaged that he would spend the month of May training at the University of Limerick while the majority of his international colleagues played knockout rugby.

It has allowed his end-of-season knocks to clear and should serve him well on next month's tour of South Africa, but he'd rather be playing.

"We were in my house on Saturday with a good few of the Munster lads and it is tough to watch, very tough to watch; it's frustrating," he says.


"You're looking at the crowds, the buzz in Galway and the crowd on the pitch afterwards and it looked really, really cool and that's something that you want to have.

"Leinster v Ulster was a great game on Friday, the crowd was a full house and it's just very frustrating. It was a frustrating year for Munster, we made it very difficult for ourselves.

"We were happy to make Europe and have a season to look forward to next year. Basically, we just want to wipe it under the carpet and learn from it.

"Apparently, you learn a lot more about yourself from the tough times than you do in the good. We've learnt a lot about what not to do and there's a lot of hurt there."

Murray has yet to meet Rassie Erasmus who has limited his interactions to the coaches on his visits to Limerick to date, but he is impressed by the calibre of the appointment.

So, are Munster far away?

"Yes and no," Murray replies after a long pause. "Yes in the sense that we didn't play well enough last year, but no in the sense that you look at our players and we have very good players.

"It's just about getting the best out of ourselves. That will definitely come, there's a bit of upset there at the way this year has gone and we should be an awful lot better than what we were.

"We're close. I'm excited about next year and it's not as if I'm worried about it. The challenge of what we're trying to do is exciting, it'll come in time but we'll need a big pre-season together.

"We'll need to be tighter than we were this year and then we'll start to build and try and correct things.

"We just need a big pre-season and to get back to work, to have higher standards than we had last year. People (in South Africa) weren't too happy with him (Erasmus) leaving South Africa which means he was quite a valuable asset.

"For us to get someone like him is good for our club, it's a fresh start that comes at a good time to kind of forget about last year and get a fresh start as we look towards the future again."

Munster's absence from the Guinness Pro12 play-offs has had one advantage for the five players from the province who made the cut for Joe Schmidt's 32-man squad to tour South Africa yesterday.

On Wednesdays, the national team coaches have been in Limerick to oversee training, meaning the contingent down south have a head start on everyone else, especially in getting to know new defence coach Andy Farrell.

"They've taken a few sessions with us; particularly Andy Farrell with his new defensive philosophy and structure, we're trying to get a bit of extra work done on that with the Munster lads," Murray explains.

"We've been in the gym quite a bit doing a good bit of fitness and trying to stay fresh and fit so that we're ready to go. The other lads are playing games and they're going to be match-fit, so we've got to stay on top of things that way.

"Andy is a really tough character who has been there and done it, so you just respect everything he says.

"Line-speed is one of his big things. With England over the last few years, their line-speed has been a real strength of theirs and can be very difficult to play against at times.

"There's a few differences (in Ireland's defensive arrangements). He's a really good coach, he's making his messages really clear and he leaves you in no doubt as to what he wants.

"I'm really excited to see how that fits into our team and how we can take it on board and put it into action down in South Africa."

Murray has only played five times since the Six Nations, so unsurprisingly he feels far fresher than he did four years ago when a tired team went to New Zealand and came home humiliated.

He is upbeat about Ireland's prospects on a tour that looks crucial in the development of Joe Schmidt's team who face the southern hemisphere's big three in six of their next seven games.

"It's massive. It is technically the end of our season when we play South Africa and then we have our summer holidays, but then you get back into pre-season and you've a few league games, Europe and whatever and then you've got a massive November series," Murray says.

"People are already talking about it and looking towards it. It's a massive seven games ahead for us, huge games against very good opposition.

"In a way, the young blood was introduced during the Six Nations; they'll have a lot of experience now come the summer tour and it'll be a good chance for us to gel as a squad away together for three weeks plus a week in camp before we head away as well.

"It'll be a time where we can grow as a group, to understand each other better, to understand how guys play and how you get on with them off the pitch as well and become a tight unit.

"When we won the Six Nations the two years previous to this, we were a really tight group, a very cohesive unit and you had really good mates on the squad and I think that's very important for any team to be successful.

"You hear the Leicester City players talking all the time about how tight they are, it's no surprise how important that is.

"So, it's a good opportunity to become a tighter unit down in South Africa."

Conor Murray was speaking for Dove Men+Care, as part of their #SCRUMTOGETHER teamwork competition. For more information visit @DoveMen on Twitter

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