Conor Murray may be frustrated he missed Ireland’s historic victory over the All Blacks last month but he has no regrets he took the time to properly rehab his neck injury.
Murray is set to make his fourth appearance of the season on Saturday when Munster travel to Castres for their Heineken Champions Cup pool clash and the way the scrum-half has been playing since long-awaited start to the 2018-19 campaign has been vindication for the patience and caution he exercised in making sure his neck was in perfect working order for the rigours of elite professional rugby.
There had been hints the 29-year-old star was targeting Ireland’s Guinness Series showdown with world champions New Zealand as his comeback game, speculation the Irish team management did little to dampen as Murray’s selection became part of the pre-game mind games between the rival coaching tickets.
Yet Murray was a spectator at Aviva Stadium as his international team-mates made Irish rugby history with a first home win over the All Blacks and did not make his seasonal debut for another fortnight, when he came off the bench for Munster in the PRO14 at Zebre.
Yesterday he admitted to worrying about how his neck might react to the physical nature of the game on his return but was grateful he had made the right decision to take as long as he possibly could before putting it to the test.
Asked if it was easy to block out thoughts about his neck on his return to action, Murray said: “No, it’s not. I think you rep it as much as you can in training and go through that physical contact and that tackle entry.
“It’s not until you play a game and you take a few belts without thinking about it and then you come through it and you get up and you’re fine.
“It’s not like a hamstring tear. It is your neck and I suppose you have that awareness of it. But we took the amount of time that was absolutely necessary to get it fully right.
“It’s fully right now, thankfully. It’s something I have to keep on top of in terms of prehab and stuff like that. It feels good. It feels good now, thankfully.”
His immediate return to top form in his first three appearances since June have further justified Murray’s decision to take his own sweet time before returning to rugby.
“Yeah, absolutely. I suppose you could have pushed and then you get a bang and it sets you back even more. While it was tough and frustrating to watch the lads playing in November, with the big win against the All Blacks as well – that’s tough viewing. Obviously I was delighted for the lads, but ask any player who could have potentially been involved, it is tough to see too.
“At the end of the day, getting my neck right was much bigger than that, personally for me. I’m glad I took the time. I’m glad I feel great now.
“The body feels good. I think the Zebre game was sloppy. It was in the mud but we ground out a good result. And then I really enjoyed Edinburgh (in Cork) on that pitch, played 80 minutes.
“The body feels brilliant. The Castres game, personally and as a whole, there were good moments and there were sloppy moments too.
“I feel good. It’s just adjusting to... not so much the pace, but pressurised rugby. I think the Castres game was stop/start. It was a bit sloppy from both sides so you didn’t learn a whole lot about your match fitness. But I feel great at the moment.”
Murray praised Ireland boss Joe Schmidt for the impact he has had on his career and spoke of his excitement at the appointment of Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell as his successor after next autumn’s World Cup.
“Yeah, Joe... personally, he keeps you on your toes. You know when he came in, in 2013, you come back from a Lions tour and you’re feeling good about yourself and he just demands standards and constantly drives them and drives you to get better.
“He’s done that for every player that’s been involved so he’s made me a better player, to sum it up pretty simply. He’s done an awful amount for me in my career.
“Andy, he’s a massive part of our group.
“He’s really well respected, really good and he’s a coach you want to play for and especially as a defensive coach you’ll run through walls for him.
“He’s been with us now for a number of seasons and he’s well bedded in and I’m excited about what he’s going to do with us but it’s a long time away as well.”
- The festive interprovincial clash between Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park on Saturday, December 29, has sold-out in record time.
Additional goal-line seating has been installed for the derby to increase the capacity to a record-equalling 26,267. The fixture kicks-off at 5.15pm.