Tuesday 19 March 2019

'This is a big opportunity and I plan on taking it' - Jordi Murphy eager to stake a claim in Italy showdown

17 March 2018; Jordi Murphy of Ireland celebrates with supporters following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in London last year. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 March 2018; Jordi Murphy of Ireland celebrates with supporters following the NatWest Six Nations Rugby Championship match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium in London last year. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Jordi Murphy doesn't even bother attempting to downplay it: Sunday's game against Italy is massive in terms of his World Cup hopes

Six Nations starts are hard to come by and no one has to tell Murphy that because you have to go all the way back to England in 2015 to find the last time the Ulster player was included in the XV.

With injuries to CJ Stander and Jack Conan opening the door, Murphy's versatility has once again come to the fore, which may well prove to be decisive when Joe Schmidt goes to pick from an ultra competitive back-row for Japan.

With Stander expected to return for the French game, Murphy is eager to stake his claim, even if he is playing in a more unfamiliar No 8 role.

"Yeah, it is (massive)," the Dubliner agrees. "There is no beating around the bush, the World Cup is in whatever it is, seven months time.

"This is a big opportunity and I plan on taking it with both hands. They don't come by that often because obviously a lot of the boys in these positions have been playing really well.

"I am very much game focused and I know I have to put in a performance this weekend but yeah look, it's a big opportunity."

Starting in the 8 jersey poses some challenges for a player who is much more comfortable on either flank, but Murphy has been training across the back-row in recent weeks.

Dan Leavy proved how difficult that transition to the base of the scrum can be when Leinster's switch against Bath rather backfired.

Controlling the ball at your feet at scrum time is an under-appreciated skill and it was one that Murphy has been working hard at.

"Especially if your front row get up a good head of steam and next thing you fumble the ball and let it out," the 27-year old explains.

"You don't get forgiven for that so it takes a bit of footballing. I'm no footballer but I'm alright at it – I was a keeper back in the day!

"I've been doing a bit of everything the last couple of weeks in training anyway whether it be six, seven or eight.

"I suppose just having that control at the base of the scrum can get messy.

"It is having the communication with the nine whether it be (Conor) Murray or Coons (John Cooney) this weekend.

"There are different roles. We have quite a structured game, straight off our first phase, second, third. After that, we become unstructured, anyone can play any role then."

Murphy's ability to step in and invariably deliver an excellent performance is why Schmidt has also valued what he brings to his squad.

"There's been times that he hasn't picked me so he mustn't like me that much," Murphy laughs.

"It's just one of those things, he's very much a fair coach, he picks on form and if you produce the goods for him, whether that be in training or you do what he's asking from you when you are back with your province, he rewards you most of the time. I just hope to repay that faith this weekend."

If Murphy does repay that faith then it will serve as a timely reminder that his versatility is vital.

Having overcome the serious knee injury that he suffered in the historic first win over the All Blacks, Murphy is now very much looking forward.

"I am feeling good at the moment. I'm injury free," he adds.

"The knee injury was obviously bad and people were telling me it does take the guts of 12 to 18 months to really feel like you are passed it.

"I'm definitely at that point now where I feel like I am over that, so I can't really complain about anything.

"In the last couple of weeks, I haven been training at 6, 7 or 8 and I've always know that was one of the things that I can bring to the table and look.

"The last time I went to the World Cup Joe said one of the reasons was because I offered that versatility so yeah look i'd hope that would be one of the reasons why I could go but

"I have to perform as well because I've head the versatility the last couple of years and then maybe I haven't been performing for a province or when I come in here and haven't been at the pace in training and i've been left out.

"All the boys who have been getting games in here over the last while have been top quality players and if you're on the bench you know you have to a job in all three positions and everyone in the back-row is really capable of doing that."

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