For Conor Murray, this new season with Munster is just like starting over. The darkness has passed and only clear skies lie ahead.
Such is the positivity coursing through the province right now, the Munster and Ireland scrum-half — back in harness after a delayed return to the number nine jersey last weekend — is determined it should stay that way.
The bounce being experienced by this squad from moving into Munster’s impressive High-Performance Centre at the University of Limerick cannot be underestimated. Added to a fresh outlook offered by incoming director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, and a re-tooled coaching staff, it amounts to a clean start after the miserable 2015-16 season.
Two away wins in Wales and a home defeat to Cardiff Blues in Cork a fortnight ago does not quite yet suggest the dawning of a new age but there is definitely a sense of renewal in Murray’s mind and the opportunity for the 27-year-old and the other established squad members to finally click into gear.
“I don’t think we are that far away,” said Murray. “Last year, we had probably the worst season since I came here. We just played really poorly during the year. It wasn’t down to poor players, it was just poor performances. You want to be close to the top of the table, but, in my opinion, if we play a little bit better, a couple of results go our way as opposed to last year, then we will be in the mix again.
“Obviously, we are aiming a lot higher than that, but I don’t think we are completely starting from scratch here. We have built a fair bit of the foundations up over the years and we would just like to finally finish that off.”
The arrival of Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber can be the springboard for that much-needed push, said Murray, who got through a full 80 minutes in the win away to the Dragons on Saturday in his first game time since Ireland’s summer tour to South Africa.
“With the lads coming in, the new coaching staff, when I came back a few weeks later than everyone else, it just felt like a new club, a new buzz.
“Then, in training, there is a new game-plan. Everything just felt new and there was an enthusiastic atmosphere from everybody. I was itching to get back playing and last week, thankfully, got to play with the lads and managed to get a good win. It is up to us now to keep that momentum going.
“It is a new environment, new coaching set-up, so there will be a lot of learnings from our early games and it is about building on each performance.”
With Edinburgh coming to Thomond Park tomorrow, Murray believes the time for excuses may be over.
“I think we are sick of saying ‘transition period’. I know it’s another new coaching set-up, but there is a group of players here who have been here for a long time. They know how to play with each other and can read each other really well on the pitch and off the pitch. We will know each other an awful lot better [at a single training base]. I would hope that will transfer on to the pitch.
“I wouldn’t be preaching patience, just yet. There is a good feeling and let’s keep it going and see where it takes us. That’s Rassie’s opinion as well. It is a new group and we will keep building and building and building and try and get better each week. That is how we feel at the moment, as well.”
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