Sport Rugby

Sunday 18 March 2018

Murphy puts hand up to fill No 8 void

Leinster 19 Ulster 6

Leinster’s Dave Kearney wins the high ball ahead of Ulster’s Craig Gilroy. SPORTSFILE
Leinster’s Dave Kearney wins the high ball ahead of Ulster’s Craig Gilroy. SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Martin Moore during the game
David Kelly

David Kelly

Outstanding display in damp squib cheers Leinster fans fearful of losing Heaslip

A festive turkey of a ball game and even the home faithful's Christmas cheer was undone by the sight of Sean O'Brien's injury comeback being ruined by yet another body blow.

And, with talk continuing to circle the air about Jamie Heaslip's future, it may not have been just desolate Ulster supporters wondering just how their province may cope in future years.

The answer may be found within Leinster's brimful back-row -- on Saturday, allowing for O'Brien's enforced withdrawal, the Leinster trio utterly routed their direct opponents.

And, in try scorer Jordi Murphy Leinster could have within their squad a cut-price alternative should Heaslip opt for more meteorologically and financially rewarding climes.

The openside substitute for O'Brien, Dominic Ryan, has a talent that is already well-established, if so sadly often hampered by injury while, on the blindside, Rhys Ruddock has never had a more consistent run of form.

But it is Murphy, whose try from Luke Fitzgerald's gorgeous offload was the highlight of a dismal night's fare, who attracted most of the plaudits, particularly given Heaslip's contract imbroglio.

Murphy (22) is another of the Academy graduates brainwashed by media training so sadly his thoughts are permanently airbrushed by Orwellian doublespeak. "Healthy competition" are the mots du jour.

Mercifully, his actions roared much louder; this was another opportunity to shine and he grabbed it with both hands.

"I haven't been thinking about that," he says when asked about the possibility of benefiting from Heaslip's seemingly endless prevarication. "I just look to each game I get to play and I try to play as well as I can.

"That's just the way it is. There is good, healthy competition and we obviously wouldn't want to lose a player of Jamie's ability at this club so we are not thinking that way.


"It's healthy competition. No one is complaining. You work as hard as you can and if you work you will deserve your chance. Everybody knows that so we just have to keep working hard and make those positions ours."

Even with John Lacey's enigmatic whistling of the breakdown offending both sets of supporters, Leinster's imperceptible momentum was irresistible and the back-row were key components.

The trio that finished the game offer a glimpse at an exciting future should Leinster fail to hold on to their top transfer targets. But then that's the culture of expectancy at the club.

"There are no excuses," says Murphy, deferring to Ryan as an example. "When you come on you have got to slot in as if you had been playing the whole match and I thought Dominic did great.

"He had a great carry off the first ball he got and then a good choke tackle at an important time to turn the ball over. That was one of the many good things he did when he came on.

"It's just about grafting hard. If you complain you are not thinking about the task in hand.

"Obviously some of the Irish lads have been rested this last few weeks and it has been a chance for some of the younger lads to step up but I don't think we are inexperienced anymore.

"Between myself, Rhys and and a few of the younger lads coming through we have dozens of caps under our belts.

"There are a few Lions players in our back-row which is brilliant for competition. I wouldn't call it frustrating. If you take your chance and play well they will just have to keep playing you week in and week out."

Matt O'Connor, basking in the glow of victory after two fitful, blank weeks, is thankful for such luxuries -- that Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin will return this weekend in Galway reflects the vast resources in his back-row.

"Thankfully, it's probably the area we're best served in relation to depth," he agrees. "There's some tremendous footballers in that group. Jamie Heaslip, Sean and Shane Jennings have proven over time that they're world-class in those positions.

"But those young guys are very good footballers. Every time they've played for us, they've been outstanding."

It's a difficult bind to maintain a happy bunch; hence the argument that perhaps more players should move away from leading Irish provinces in order to provide the next generation with a better opportunity for game-time.

O'Connor's approach is simple.

"Just be nice to them! Nah, it's tough because they all want to play. Young guys want to play rugby, that's the nature of the beast.


"It's certainly something that we're conscious of in terms of managing workloads and providing opportunities to get a run of games so they can put their best foot forward in terms of their own and the team's performance."

Murphy would, as the media training instructs, play anywhere, and he unhesitatingly accepts his versatility, albeit he insists he didn't come into the squad as a No 8. O'Connor is a phlegmatic figure; there is little he can do to persuade Heaslip to stay so even mentally he may already be preparing for his departure. Regardless, his faith in Murphy is vivid.

"His versatility is his greatest strength at this point," the Australian expands. "He'd be the first to tell you he has a bit of work to do at the base.

"We had dominance at the scrum and we didn't get enough pay out of that. At 22, there's plenty of time for him to specialise. His versatility suits him at the moment."

Leinster -- Z Kirchner; D Kearney, B Macken, N Reid (I Madigan 67), L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, I Boss (L McGrath 79); J O'Connell (J McGrath 60), A Dundon (J Tracy 68), M Moore (M Ross 70); L Cullen capt (T Denton 73), M McCarthy; R Ruddock, S O'Brien (D Ryan 55), J Murphy.

Ulster -- R Andrew (J Payne 51); A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall (M Allen 58), C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall (R Pienaar 51); C Black (T Court 59), R Herring, D Fitzpatrick (R Lutton 73); L Stevenson (N McComb 71), D Tuohy; R Diack (capt), S Doyle (M McComish 68), R Wilson.

Ref -- J Lacey (IRFU)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport