Conor Murray insists Munster will be in good hands with Tyler Bleyendaal at out-half against Saracens in this month’s European semi-final should Joey Carbery fail to prove his fitness in time.
Carbery had already been sidelined for six weeks with a hamstring problem prior to the Champions Cup quarter-final clash away to Edinburgh and he lasted just 36 minutes on Saturday before aggravating the same issue and departing for the afternoon.
Blyendaal has endured his own rotten — and much longer — run of fitness woes during his stint with the province, but he slotted into Carbery’s seat to good effect and nailed some key kicks at goal that helped Johann van Graan’s side sneak over the line first.
“Tyler’s more of a laidback kind of guy than Joey, but his knowledge of the game is incredible and he brings this calmness to the whole situation,” said Murray.
Looking at him, you wouldn’t think he’s playing in a quarter-final the way he steers the team around the place.
“Even jogging back after he nailed that conversion, he was just relaxed and that’s the kind of effect Tyler has on the game. He’s struggled with injury and fitness for a while and to have him back fit and playing games and getting a run of form is brilliant for us.
“If we are without Joey, it’d be a bit of a blow, but Tyler is at that level where everyone is really comfortable with him coming into the team. And you could say the same for JJ (Hanrahan) who’s played quite a bit of rugby this year too and is well capable of showing up on the day.”
Like Carbery, Bleyendaal ’s influence has been considerable off the field and on it and, if the latter lacks the x-factor of his younger counterpart, then he brings that unflappable nature, a willingness to do any dirty work required and a keen rugby brain.
A Munster player since 2014, he is Irish-qualified and spent time with Joe Schmidt’s national squad before falling back down the pecking order due to his long-term neck injury. And Murray is adamant that he remains a live option for a green jersey.
“He’s definitely good enough. When he was struggling with his injuries, that affected his form. He was in (Ireland) camps and then the neck went at him again and he just slipped away a little bit. I’ve huge respect for Tyler. I keep going back to his knowledge, the way he sees the game.
“We slag him, we say he’s going to coach the All Blacks, or he is going to coach someone when he is older. That’s just the type of guy he is, he has a good way about him. I am sure he has a desire to play for a number of years yet and show how good he is.”
Blyendaal wouldn’t be the only man at the club right now to feel that he has some unfinished business in the red shirt. Munster have featured in four European semi-finals in Murray’s time as first-choice No.9 and lost them all.
It goes without saying that this a group that is fed up falling at this penultimate stage though Murray views the pain of previous failures as a means of priming their collective appetites rather than as a noose around their necks as they approach their next D-Day in Coventry.
'I don't think Tadhg broke any laws' - Conor Murray on Beirne reaction to Schoeman shoulder incident. More from Conor, also on 'ultimate test' against Saracens, on @VirginMediaNews at 5.30 pic.twitter.com/1V9cL5CowM— Sinéad Kissane (@sineadkissane) April 3, 2019
Munster have faced Clermont Auvergne, Toulon and Racing 92 at the semi-final stage in recent years, all in France. They also fell to Sarries in Dublin two years ago. And yet Murray accepts that this latest attempt will be their toughest task yet.
“Yes, it’s going to be really tough, a big test. Their back yard. Look, the Munster supporters are going to travel again, it’s going to be an incredible occasion. Yes, Saracens are a really good team but when you get to the semi-final of Europe, you’re going to end up getting a really good side.
“Had it been Leinster, they’re a team who have won it a number of times, too. Likewise Toulouse. Everyone there has won it, Saracens more recently than Toulouse. I agree with you. We’re not trying to make this out that it is going to be an easy route to the final. It won’t be.”
And yet confidence remains high that this can be their year. Murray believes Saracens are better now than when they comfortably had Munster’s number two years ago, but he feels that the province has progressed down that same road too. It may also be that their luck is in.
There was a touch of ‘relief’ that Murray wasn’t penalised for his suplex move on Henry Pyrgos in the run up to Keith Earls’ first try last week. And an acceptance that Tadhg Beirne had helped the officials find in Munster’s favour in the lead-up to Earls’ second late in the second-half.
The game was on a knife-edge with 10 minutes to go when, with play stopped for a kickable penalty to the home side, Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman directed a shoulder at the passing Beirne who made the most of the matter as he fell to the turf.
“I didn’t see it at the time, I was obviously playing and to get that penalty — (Jaco) van der Walt was going to kick that from 40 metres. That was going to be a big moment in the game, they’d have gone six points up. So, to have that reversed was great from our point of view.
“Anyone from any team, if that happened for you you’d be happy for it. Yeah, looking back on it, the first time I saw it was in slow motion and it looks like he went down quite easily. He did. But real-time, it’s a penalty. It’s more than an elbow tip — it’s a shoulder.”