Billy Stickland/INPHO Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray.
more in the tank

'I’m driven to being as good as I can be and I feel like I have a lot to offer'

Conor Murray is determined to be involved in more big days with Ireland, despite the increased competition at scrum-half.

SATURDAY’S WIN OVER Scotland handed Conor Murray the second Triple Crown success of his career, but the Munster scrum-half has experienced some difficult moments since that golden year for Irish rugby in 2018.

Between the winters of 2015 and 2020, Murray was capped 44 times for Ireland. He started on each occasion, establishing himself as a world-class operator under the guidance of Joe Schmidt.

Andy Farrell has moved the team in another direction, with Jamison Gibson-Park emerging as his main man, the Leinster No 9′s tempo and sniping threat suiting Ireland’s new system perfectly. Throw in another fiery young competitor in Craig Casey, and you get a decent battle for minutes at scrum-half, a scrap in which Murray still has a major say. Ulster’s Nathan Doak will hope to come into that conversation sooner rather than later, too.

Murray isn’t going away anytime soon. The 32-year-old signed a new central contract with the IRFU just before Christmas, a two-year-extension which outlined that his employers still hold him in high regard. 

He featured four times in this year’s Six Nations, coming off the bench against Wales, France, England and Scotland – his temperament and leadership coming to the fore in the latter two of those fixtures, with his bonus-point try against Scotland a nice moment for a player who has given so much to Irish rugby.

As he reflects on the championship, Murray admits his bench role has been a new experience, but one he has taken in his stride.

“It takes a bit of adjustment for sure,” Murray says.

“When you’re used to starting for a good while, that’s definitely still the aim. I just want to be playing good rugby and playing as well as I can. Jamo has been brilliant, Craig has been brilliant, so that’s a kind of a sidebar.

“Overall, as I’m sure you’ve heard from lads throughout the tournament, the atmosphere and the want from everyone to do well in this group is true and it’s natural. There’s no people competing against each other, like not talking and things like that. There’s none of that.    

Personally I’m driven to being as good as I can be and I feel like I have a lot to offer. I just want to play as best I can. Wherever the chips fall they’ll fall and that’s the way it is, and if you’re not in the starting team you need to be the best you can possibly be – try and be world-class when you come on and give as best you can.

“There’s just a really good atmosphere within the group. We won a Triple Crown and it’s just a great place to be. You’ve heard about Pete O’Mahony loving camp and I think everyone loves coming in here, and it’s just a really good environment that Andy and all the other coaches have created for us where we just get better and keep pushing each other.        

“Everyone is just really open, it’s class.”

As Murray points out, plenty of players have spoken about how much they are enjoying Ireland camps under Farrell. As well as playing attractive, exciting rugby, there is clearly a strong bond between the players, all of which feeds into the sense that this is a team heading in the right direction after a couple of concerning displays across 2020 and 2021.

conor-murray-and-jamison-gibson-park-celebrate-winning-with-the-triple-crown-trophy Billy Stickland / INPHO Conor Murray celebrates Ireland's Triple Crown win with Jamison Gibson-Park. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“The key to it is probably Andy at the helm,” Murray continues.

“It’s very easy to be yourself in here, very easy. I’m obviously experienced and we’ve had great campaigns with different coaches and I don’t want to compare, but he’s created this environment where there’s no silly questions, everyone is trying to learn and get better and are really, really open with each other.

I think that just helps the group and I think it helps the way we’re trying to play. We’re very much, for the most part, on the same page as each other and that comes from through the week and having chats with each other and being really open, willing to learn and listening to your teammates and coaches.

“You could describe it for a long time but it’s a really good atmosphere to grow in, and you’ve got young players and older players; it’s the same for everyone.”

Whatever his role in the team may be, Murray is hoping to be involved when Ireland tour New Zealand this summer. He’s always been a player the All Blacks have rated highly. He’s lined up against them 10 times in his career, winning twice with Ireland (2016, 2021) and once with the British and Irish Lions (2017).

This year’s Six Nations looks to have left Ireland well-placed as they gear up for a massive test in the southern hemisphere, with Farrell’s squad looking to become the first Irish team to win in New Zealand.

conor-murray-on-the-way-to-scoring-their-fourth-try Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Murray scored Ireland's bonus-point try against Scotland on Saturday. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“We’re in a really good spot at the moment and we’ve a lot more to offer,” Murray adds.

“We’ve looked at the last three games and got bonus points in the last three but we’ve been very critical. Even on Saturday, Scotland hung in there and they were really good but we probably won’t be happy with a lot of stuff in that game.

“But that will come, that’s the exciting thing – we can grow there. But on the flip side of that we got three bonus point wins and your self-reflection as a team is probably that we have a lot more to offer.   

“I don’t know, I haven’t thought about winning on New Zealand soil for the first time and all that stuff. This group is very much looking inwards and looking at ourselves and how good we can be. We’ll definitely start looking at that. The club season obviously has a little bit more to go too, and that’s really exciting too.

“I’ve been down there a couple of times and it’s a tough place to go, but no better group that I’d like to travel with, all going well. It’s great.”

A new episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness, is out now. After Ireland’s Triple Crown win, Murray Kinsella gives us the rundown on his team of the tournament. Ireland international Sene Naoupu also joins the panel to chat about her career and look ahead to the start of the Women’s Six Nations. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

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