Conor Murray anticipates contest to savour

Conor Murray believes tomorrow’s battle of the half-backs at Ravenhill will ensure the Guinness Pro12 interprovincial showdown between Ulster and Munster is a contest to savour.

Murray’s head coach Anthony Foley this week likened Ireland’s interprovincial derbies to mini-trials for Joe Schmidt’s Test team, particularly with a World Cup preliminary training squad set to be announced by June 18.

That means respective out-halves Paddy Jackson and Ian Keatley could be going head-to-head for a berth alongside first-choice Johnny Sexton and his Six Nations stand-in Ian Madigan, while Murray will pit his wits against Springbok fly-half Ruan Pienaar.

Those are the sort of subplots that whet Murray’s appetite.

“From my point of view, it only adds to the excitement,” he said. “You’re going into a big game that’s going to come down to fine margins and it will be high quality. It does put pressure on you, because in other games when you’re coming up against an inferior opposition or whatever, you might get away with a few mistakes but this weekend I don’t think you will. It’s going to be a high quality game.”

Murray’s own positional battle with Pienaar puts the Munster scrum-half up against a player he has only faced twice before, losing on both occasions in 2012, in a Heineken Cup quarter-final at Thomond Park and with Ireland against the Boks that November.

“He would have been a player, just a top-class player, playing for South Africa and a really good nine that you admire and you appreciate,” Murray said. “I wouldn’t say I studied him much but he’s just a really good, top quality player.

“I’ve admired him for a long time and it would be nice to get one up on him.”

Murray is far better acquainted with Ulster fly-half Jackson, who is beginning to hit top gear after an injury-hit campaign that saw him miss both Test windows in November and the Six Nations.

“He’s a had a tough run of luck with injuries over this season and I think he’s just bounced back really well and showed what a quality player he is. I know him well from being in Irish camp and I know he’s a quality out-half and it will be a big week for Ian and Paddy going against each other.”

Murray has seen Jackson develop into a player finally living up to the potential that marked him out as a star of the future when he first broke through as a 20-year-old in 2012, starting a Heineken Cup semi-final and final for Ulster having just captained the Ireland U20s.

“You’re beginning to see the type of player Paddy is. He seems to be at that stage where he’s controlling things really nicely with Ruan. So it’s a big weekend, hopefully, for me and Ian, another big challenge and a big game, which is something we get excited about and look forward to.”

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