Murphy’s great expectations

His name is Ruaidhri Murphy.

He was born in Dublin, featured on the Irish U20 squad that won a Grand Slam five years ago and yet he is just a few weeks into a change of direction which may end with him becoming a Wallaby.

It is an extraordinary career path and ambition for a man who failed to make it beyond the Leinster Academy and one who warmed the bench for a full season at the Exeter Chiefs. But the 24-year old has friends in high places Down Under.

Among them is Jake White, the man who guided South Africa to the 2007 Rugby World Cup and current coach at the ACT Brumbies for whom Murphy has appeared off the bench in their opening Super 15 Rugby wins against the Western Force and Cheetahs.

“Given the shortage of props in Australia, I think long-term for Australian rugby he’s the way forward because he’s 24 and he’s played overseas,” said White.

Though born here, Murphy spent 14 years in Perth where his family operated a mining business before returning to Ireland where he featured for Castleknock College, St Mary’s, Leinster’s seconds and the Irish schoolboys and U20s.

Back in Australia since late last year, he will have to wait 36 months to qualify for the green and gold and it will be fascinating to see if the prop can justify the high expectations held for him given, not just their lack of high-class props, but our’s too.

Murphy’s progression in Australia – he starts on the bench again tomorrow against the Chiefs in Baypark Stadium – will be fascinating given the fact Declan Kidney has named the same props for the fourth game in four weeks.

Though the Irish game is well-served in many departments, the shortage of front men to back up the likes of Mike Ross and Cian Healy is a serious cause for concern and a serious injury to either would be tantamount to the Doomsday scenario for the national selection.

In that light, it would look rather careless of the rugby fraternity here if they have let someone like Murphy slip through the net if he does go on to achieve great things with the Wallabies but he has some way to go to become the Real McCoy.

After all, many a keen rugby mind had the opportunity to run the rule over him at schools, club, provincial and underage national levels here and it remains to be seen if he is yet another prop who blooms later rather than sooner.

“He’s a great lad and we’re delighted that he seems to be going so well,” said a source at Exeter. “Super Rugby doesn’t seem to be as attritional as the game here and he is a decent scrummager so it would be great to see him make it over there.”

Murphy and White have bothpointed to his scrummaging experience north of the equator as the calling card that will open doors yet there are those in Ireland for whom his command of the setpiece was less obvious.

His CV is, in truth, light on game time. Murphy played just 14 games for Exeter in two seasons and none with Leinster’s senior side having turned down the offer of a contract with Connacht shortly after leaving school so the jury is still out.

That said, his story is already a compelling one.

A keen baseball player in Australia, he was offered a trial by the Minnesota Twins Major League franchise. He competed at the shot putt as well as rugby in Castleknock and it was in an and around the end of his schooldays when he narrowly avoided death in a car crash.

It wasn’t long after he found himself leaving Ireland for a second time. Coincidentally, Leinster currently have Healy and Jamie Hagan on their books, both of whom started ahead of him for that all-conquering U20 side.

His path at the Brumbies would appear to be no less difficult with Wallaby Ben Alexander on one side and the highly-rated scrum technician Dan Palmer the other but Murphy has played on both sides down the years.

White has already signalled his intention to give Alexander more experience at number three given it is the jersey he has usually worn at Test level which means the verdict on Murphy will probably arrive sooner rather than later.

Two nations await with interest.

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