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Dublin: 18 °C Saturday 24 August, 2019

Is there anything Conor Murray can't do?

On top of being a world class scrum-half, the Munster man has added line-out jumping and long-range goal-kicking to his impressive repertoire.

THERE’S A SENSE of occasion when Conor Murray takes a kicking tee and aims for goal.

Conor Murray lines up a penalty Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It arises from seeing a terrific talent, arguably the best in his position the world over, casually show an extra string to his bow that has not been put to use often enough.

The scrum-half may have only been on target with one of his three attempts in Paris on Sunday, but the languid style of his kicks – maximising distance and height with apparently minimal effort – is a terrific weapon for his province and country to put to use.

A more frequent goal-kicker with Garryowen and Ireland U20s, it was not until the 2013 Lions tour that Murray was pushed to show off the extra skill in his repertoire as a senior pro.

“Jenks (Lions skills coach Neil Jenkins) just saw me, not messing, but taking a few kicks and he said I should keep it up,” says Murray.

“It’s something that I’ve tipped away at, not something I’ve practised an awful lot. In recent times opportunities, starting with Leicester away, came up and it becomes more realistic.”

Conor Murray kicks a penalty Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Murray’s first points with the boot came late in the 2013/14 season, knocking over two late conversions against Edinburgh after replacing an injured JJ Hanrahan.

While his halfway-line strike to put Munster into a 75th minute lead away to Racing was exceptional, it will take some doing to oust the Soldier Field penalty against New Zealand as the central focus of his short, but soon to grow, kicking highlight reel.

“It’s in my locker, so it’s something that if called upon I am more than happy to have a go and hopefully help the team.

“It’s not something I’ve done more and more, it’s just recently opportunities have come up to do it.”

I kept it up when I (first) came into the Munster squad, but obviously ROG had the kicking looked after there. I put it on the back-burner and always had a little tip away at it.”

There was enough evidence to guess, but Murray confirms that he’s comfortable taking aim from 50-plus metres having taken Tyler Bleyendaal’s advice to switch to the taller ‘telescopic’ tee.

As important as his range though, is the durability of his confidence. Even after missing two in Paris and another tough angled one against the wind in Leicester, the scrum-half didn’t flinch when asked to go again by his team-mates.

“I had missed two, so I knew if another one popped up I really wanted to take one and get it or else I’d be taking a big slagging this week.

“In fairness, the lads see me in training doing it and see I have the distance so it’s great to have guys like that… (CJ Stander) just said: ‘do you want it?’ I said ‘yes please’.

“It’s great to have your team-mates backing you as well. If it is something that can help the team then it’s something I’m willing to give a go.”

That same attitude applies to the other much, much less conventional scrum-half skill Murray has been demonstrating since Johann van Graan’s arrival.

Conor Murray in the line-out Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That’s Murray being hoisted into the air as a line-out jumper last month, making inroads into a second row’s work-load having mastered the arts in the back-line.

The move speaks to a freedom in Munster’s attacking game now. Led by Van Graan and Felix Jones they are willing to attempt unconventional moves and plays.

“Probably Billy Holland or Johann van Graan (came up with the idea). Billy came to me about it. The line-out callers have a meeting during the week and they come up with their plays. Billy came up to me after it and asked me. I declined it first, but I got my head around it eventually.”

It’s a ploy that is not brand new or revolutionary, of course, the opening weekend of the Six Nations will spark many memories of Scotland placing centre Alex Dunbar in a line-out to bamboozle Ireland last year. In the Super Rugby season that followed, Jordie Barrett joined the Hurricanes pack for the sideline set-piece too.

In fact, the Christmas inter-pro was not even Murray’s first time as a line-out jumper

“I did it when I was younger at Young Munster, against UCC I think. It came off. Like the kicking at goal, if it something that will help the team, I will do it.

“It is a bit scary up there. I kicked a few fellas in the private areas when we were practicing, but I eventually got the hang of it.”

Just like everything else he turns his hand to.

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Sean Farrell

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