News of Conor Murray’s rude health will have been met with relief across the four ‘home’ unions yesterday - and with keen interest in New Zealand - but the immediate beneficiaries of that medical bulletin will be a Munster side that still has considerable business to conduct.
Photo Credit: BUILDING STRENGTH: Ireland, Munster and Lions scrum-half Conor Murray relaunches Maximuscle in Ireland ‘Home Of Gains’ Campaign with a new range of protein bars, designed for anyone looking to quickly increase their protein consumption. To celebrate the launch, Conor held two exclusive training sessions in the specially created Home of Gains gym, in partnership with RAW. For the summer months, members of the public will have the chance to attend the Home of Gains for hour-long intense and uniquely created training sessions designed to help them achieve their own physical ‘gains’: to build strength develop lean muscle, burn fat or improve sports performance. Fans can sign up for free at www.maxinutrition.com/home-of-gains.
For Murray himself, his imminent return to the field is an opportunity to make up for his absence two years ago when a knee injury sustained in the Guinness Pro12 semi-final defeat of Ospreys sidelined him for a decider that would be lost to Glasgow Warriors in Belfast.
For Munster as a whole, this next three weeks represent the chance to mark this most painful and, at the same time, progressive of seasons with some silverware after the passing of Anthony Foley and their unexpectedly long trek through Europe.
“Yeah, especially (after) the season we’ve had, how hard we worked and the emotion attached to this season with Axel’s passing,” said Murray. “That’s still a massive thing in our squad. It will be for a long time. To miss out on the European final - European rugby is what Munster is based on - is horrible.
“It would have been awesome. We’ve worked too hard to miss out on a chance to lift a trophy. We’ve been through tough times over the last two years. We’re a new team, we’re performing well, we’re happy with our coaches, the way we’re being coached.” Two months in sick bay haven’t been easy.
Never the best of spectators, Murray spent a fair part of his rehab watching possible summer opponents in Super Rugby, but there was the added worry Rassie Erasmus might be lost to Munster when talk of a return to South Africa gathered momentum.
“We were all worried about it, because we all love working under the lads. We know we’re on the right track to doing something good and we’re really grateful he’s decided to stay on. It’s something good we know we’re building, we know we’re a good team under him. If he’d gone it would have been another blow to us. It would have been really frustrating.” So would missing this Lions tour.
Murray’s progress in Australia four years ago has been well-thumbed by now. The scrum-half absorbed everything he could from assistant coach Rob Howley, as well as Mike Phillips and Ben Youngs. He ended the third test pulling the strings and with his confidence shooting through the roof.
“The coaching I got down there, the belief I got in myself to be part of a Lions series-winning team, was massive. I came back to Ireland probably a new player, mentally more so than anything else. Just knowing that you have the ability to go and do it.”
Another layer was added to that self-belief in Chicago when Murray was part of the first Ireland senior men’s team to take down the All Blacks and, though he recognises the worth of that experience, he is keen to stress New Zealand in June with the Lions is no like-for-like. The Lions, though underdogs, travel with a party widely respected. Murray will himself land on Kiwi soil with more expected of him than four years ago and, though he claims to enjoy the experience of touring the country in deep winter, he knows well what awaits them.
“Yeah, it’s going to be tougher, definitely. If you look at the midweek games in Australia some of them were pretty easy. Yes, they were a good run-out for your fitness but you’re going to be tested an awful lot more in the midweek games.
“Physically, they’re going to be a lot more demanding. They’re going to be of a higher standard so it’s going to be way tougher than Australia and then you’ve got to play the All Blacks in three tests. That’s why I was so frustrated when I was injured. I wanted to make it back and play so I could go down to New Zealand fit and give it my all because you can’t be carrying injuries or shirking away from these games. You’re going to have to come in to every game and give it your all because it’s a really competitive squad.”
‘13 minutes haven’t delayed my return’
Conor Murray doesn’t believe his return to fitness has been delayed by the decision to leave him on the field for over 13 minutes after suffering nerve damage in his shoulder and neck during Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to Wales.
The Munster scrum-half came off the worst trying to tackle George North eight minutes before the interval in Cardiff. It was five minutes into the second half when, with his ability to pass comp-romised, he was called ashore.
Eight weeks later and he has yet to feature again, though he delivered an encouraging update yesterday, revealing he may play against Connacht in Limerick in the Guinness PRO12 this weekend. Failing that, he is a “good bet” for the semi-final in a fortnight.
“People have asked me that a couple of times and I’ve looked at the video to make sure,” he said of the injury and the attempt to play through it. “Because I was unsure. And there was nothing in the second half that suggested I got a bang on it and made it worse.
“It was all in that impact because the impact was bad enough. The strength didn’t come back in the second half. That’s why I was taken off. But I didn’t do any more damage. I was probably risking our team’s chances with my passing.”
Murray missed the defeat of England as well as Munster’s win against Toulouse in the Champions Cup quarter-final and their loss to Saracens at the penultimate hurdle. Aggravating the nerve damage in his first heavy weights session at the start of March didn’t help and then Warren Gatland went and declared the need for him to prove his fitness before boarding the plane to New Zealand. No pressure, right?
“You are worried but… you know your body. I was very confident that I would come back and play. I feel ready to play. If I didn’t play this week-end and had another week off, that would only do me good. We’re at a stage where I can play. I feel really good. I feel I wouldn’t be shirking away from contact or nervous about going into contact because I’ve made tackles and been tackled in training sessions.”
Meanwhile, the IRFU has announced the 2017 Guinness Series will see Joe Schmidt’s senior Ireland side face South Africa (November 12), Fiji (18), and Argentina (25) at the Aviva Stadium. Rugby club members should contact their clubs for details of ticket allocations. Irish Rugby Supporters Club members can avail of an exclusive pre-sale on Ticketmaster.ie. Details of the pre-sale and general sale will be announced in the coming weeks. Prices range from €100 for a premium level ticket for the Springbok game to €5 for a schoolboy/girl ticket for Fiji.
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