While the Ireland scrum-half prepares for next month’s three-Test series in South Africa with Munster on the training ground and in the gym, his rivals for the number nine jersey, Kieran Marmion and Eoin Reddan go toe to toe in the white heat of an end of season finale at Murrayfield, all three having been named yesterday in Joe Schmidt’s 32-man touring party to take on the Springboks.
Munster’s disappointing season, failing to reach the Pro12 play-offs has left the 27-year-old from Patrickswell on the sidelines, the only Irish province not to qualify for the league semi-finals. But having played in last season’s decider, Murray will cast an envious eye on proceedings in this season’s Edinburgh showdown.
“It’ll be tough to watch but if you try and stay away from it you’re only going to be wondering what’s going on,” Murray told the.
“As a rugby supporter I think it’s going to be a great final. Two teams that look to be playing very very well and are on top of their games. They’re going to want to go out and show everyone how good they are and why they deserve to be champions.
“As a neutral, it’s great for two Irish teams to be involved in it.
“Marms had a fine game against Glasgow (in the semi-final) along with Redser on Friday night (against Ulster) so that’s one aspect that is quite frustrating: when you see guys like that playing well and you can’t play. All you can do is go to the gym or go out and do some fitness and skill work, there’s not much else you can do.
“So it’s tough to watch but the lads are playing well and really putting their hands up and that just makes our squad that much more competitive, which is great for Joe and for all the players. It brings out the best in everyone and it will be interesting to see those two lads go up against each other next week.
“There’s competition everywhere in our squad and that’s one of the main reasons why it’s frustrating not to be playing. It’s not the main reason but you’d like to be playing in these games.
“Sold out RDS and sold out Sportsground, they’re massive atmospheres and it looks like a lot of fun to be involved in those games.”
Murray’s frustration also throws a spotlight on Munster’s shortcomings but the Ireland and Lions scrum-half believes his province can rebound under the supervision of incoming director of rugby Johan Erasmus, who will take up his post for pre-season in Limerick on July 1.
“With Rassie Erasmus coming in I think it’s only going to be a good thing for us. We’re going to need a massive pre-season and re-focus with Munster. That’s something I think we’re well capable of.
“I’m just trying to stay fit and get ready for the tour and then we’re going to need to switch off from rugby for a while and then come back really, really hungry to do well with Munster and Ireland.”
Should Murray play in all three Tests against the Boks, the first one of which is on June 11 in Cape Town, he will make his 50th Ireland appearance in the final tour match in Port Elizabeth on June 25.
Understandably, though he is unquestionably Schmidt’s first-choice at scrum-half, Murray is taking nothing for granted and in Marmion he sees a rival for the green jersey for many seasons to come.
“He’s an impressive player, very dangerous around the ruck and he works very hard. He’s always working on his game in camp, on those little extras and he’s a student of the game, always on the laptop studying. He’s a quality player who’s stepping up and he’s a big influence for Connacht at the moment. He’s a threat around the ruck and he’s an eye for the gap, which is very dangerous and keeps a lot of defences honest. His game management and his skillset is always improving so it’s no surprise he’s playing well and he’ll be involved in Ireland squads for years to come.”
Whatever about competition in the Ireland squad, Murray admits going into a first series in South Africa since 2004 will be a trip into the unknown, particularly with a new Springboks coach in Allister Coetzee.
“My experience playing for a new coach and over the last few years I’ve had a good few coaches, at the beginning of each new season you’re worried that he mightn’t like you, will he rate you, will he pick you, so that’s probably going to be in the minds of a lot of South African players and they’re going to be trying to impress their new coach.
“A new coach is highly motivating and you’re very hungry to play well and that can be quite a daunting and dangerous thing for us. So it’s a bit of an unknown. Just to assume that they’ve a new coach and they’ll be a new group together, they could be rusty, that’s a dangerous thing to think.”