Dan Sheridan/INPHO Conor Murray will win his 91st Ireland cap tomorrow.

'The hardest thing is to stay at the top and that’s what Conor has done'

Conor Murray starts against Argentina tomorrow as he wins his 91st cap.

A PLAYER WITHOUT Conor Murray’s mental strength might not keep bouncing back the way he does.

When he was struggling with a bulging disk in his neck in 2018, there were all sorts of stories going around. One of the whispers was that he had failed a drugs test.

“The rumours were crazy,” said Murray when he was close to returning to action, explaining that he and his family had been hurt by that false gossip.

When he did get back playing, the Limerick man swiftly regained first-choice status with Ireland. And yet, there were lots of people who loudly proclaimed that the scrum-half wasn’t right. His passing isn’t powerful anymore, they’d tell you. He’s not quick enough, you would hear.

The doubters have never really stopped doubting. But as recently as July, Conor Murray was briefly captain of the Lions, making him one of few Irishmen to have had the honour of leading the tourists.

Murray had an up-and-down tour, with a start in the second Test against the Springboks coming in between bench roles in the first and third Tests as Ali Price was preferred.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has since spoken to Murray about the tour and was impressed by how the scrum-half handed it.

“He really enjoyed the tour, the craic with the lads and everyone,” says Farrell. “Conor is that type of personality anyway. He tends to not let things faze him in that regard.

“I will probably rewind a little bit from that and say that Conor over the past few years has matured massively, he’s very comfortable in his own skin.”

a-pitch-invader-runs-onto-the-field-after-the-final-whistle-and-reaches-conor-murray-to-ask-him-for-his-boots Gary Carr / INPHO Murray gave his boots to a young fan last weekend. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Over the past fortnight, Jamison Gibson-Park has impressed in Ireland’s number nine shirt as Murray has made appearances off the bench against Japan and New Zealand. It would have disappointed him not to start, of course, but Murray has done well as a replacement.

“Honestly, Conor has been great,” says Farrell. “He has been fantastic in camp. He has just got on with his business in a very professional manner and has been supportive of Jamison, helping the team push forward.

“Jamison has played very well and Conor has been very supportive.”

Tomorrow, Murray gets a starting chance with Gibson-Park out injured. The Munster man will appreciate that Gibson-Park has set a high standard so there will be no shortage of motivation for him against Argentina.

Murray’s current IRFU central contract is due to expire next summer, so this would be an ideal time to remind everyone of his class. The42 understands that he has already fielded interest from a Top 14 club so it will be fascinating to see what happens in the longer-term.

For now, though, Murray is preparing to flourish amidst a refreshed, ambitious Ireland attacking approach. Farrell firmly rejects the public perception that Murray is a slow-paced, box-kicking scrum-half.

“I fully disagree, yeah,” says Farrell. 

He acknowledges that Gibson-Park and Murray bring different strengths to the party but the Ireland head coach is convinced that the latter can shine when playing at high tempo behind a pack that is providing clean, quick ball.

“Obviously, they’re different players, every player has got a slightly different skillset but Conor can play quick, he can make good decisions and he can snipe and has a good range at the ruck.

“His tactical kicking, not just box-kicking, is superb. His passing is as sharp as ever. We all know his energy around the park, his fitness level is top drawer and we all know he’s a great defender as well.”

simon-zebo-and-conor-murray Dan Sheridan / INPHO Murray with Simon Zebo at Ireland training this week. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

So why the seemingly incessant complaints about Murray still getting starts for Ireland and even for Munster, where Craig Casey has emerged in recent seasons?

Farrell believes that the lack of appreciation for Murray is simply down to how long he has been around. The scrum-half has been to three World Cups, won a Grand Slam and two other Six Nations titles, and will earn his 91st Ireland cap tomorrow.

“We’re all big enough and old enough to realise that the more that we see a player, we’re always looking for the next thing,” says Farrell.

“Sometimes we don’t do the players who have been at the top for so long justice really because we’re always ready to push on.

“The hardest thing to do in any walk of life is to stay at the top and that’s what the likes of Conor has done for many years, so that should be celebrated as well.

Some of his critics believe the 32-year-old is done at the highest level.

But Murray gets a chance tomorrow to show the doubters that he has plenty to offer.

Farrell believes the two-time Lion will deliver.

“He has waited for his time and it’s here. We expect a good performance.”

Bernard Jackman, Gavan Casey, and Murray Kinsella reflect on Ireland’s stunning win over the All Blacks, hail Ciara Griffin’s Ireland career, and chat about Rassie:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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