Conor Murray’s reputation as the leading scrum-half in the Northern Hemisphere, if not the world, will mean the Munster star can expect a lot of attention from Racing 92’s forwards in Bordeaux tomorrow but Johann van Graan says his number nine will not be fazed.
Murray’s influence on this Munster side was neatly encapsulated by his appearance off the bench in last weekend’s Guinness PRO14 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Replacing injured starting half-back James Hart in the 36th minute with van Graan’s side trailing 14-0, Murray quickly made an impact, pouncing off the back of a touchline ruck to power over for Munster’s opening try.
His score, as well as his presence, provided a steadying influence and a monster penalty kick from inside his own half after the interval was equally important to his side’s victory.
Nor will Murray’s exploits have gone unnoticed in the Racing camp ahead of the Champions Cup semi-final showdown at Stade Chaban-Delmas, the ground where the scrum-half made his Test debut for Ireland in a 2011 World Cup warm-up against France.
“I think your whole team have to be aware of the opposition nine and 10,” said Munster head coach van Graan.
“I think Keats (fly-half Ian Keatley) also poses quite a threat to the gain-line. If Rory (Scannell) and (replacement backs) JJ (Hanrahan) and Zeebs (Simon Zebo) come in to second receiver, we are posing different questions on attack.
“Obviously Conor will be a marked man by the opposition but that’s not new to him. Every team in the world will give him special attention. It doesn’t seem to faze him. He’s just one of our players and he poses a threat and hopefully he’ll have a good game on Sunday.”
Former Springbok assistant coach van Graan had long admired Murray from afar so when he took over the reins at Munster, the Ireland and Lions star was hardly a surprise package.
“I’ve always thought he was a great player. He just delivers every single week. There was never any doubt when I came here. When South Africa played against him, we knew what a quality player he is.
“He’s just incredible. I think his biggest asset is maybe his decision-making, he seems to make them in slow motion and he seems to make the right one time after time.
“Also, when he’s on the field he brings a lot of calm to the team and I thought he did really well when he came off the bench at the weekend. I also thought James Hart had a very good two weeks (in South Africa). With Duncan (Williams) injured, I thought he really stepped up to the plate, so we’re really glad to have a bit of depth at nine now.”
Nevertheless, the world-class talent of Murray that brings so much more to the table for his coach.
“In any game of rugby you need to look at your strengths and what opportunities the opposition possibly give you. Then it’s about finding ways to hopefully get some points on the board.
“With Conor, he’s got such a wide array of skills. It’s not only his running, or his kicking, or his passing game; it’s his decision-making. He seems to produce week in and week out.
When he came on to the field and scored that try (against the Cheetahs), he’s a threat everywhere. You use your world-class players as best you can.”
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