Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

'As long as they have you here, I will happily stay' - Murray

The 34-year-old scrum-half wants to play on in Irish rugby.

CONOR MURRAY WILL turn 35 in April. He has been playing at the top level of rugby for 14 years now. But the passion for it all still burns strongly inside him.

Some supporters have already retired him in their minds, ready to move on to the next wave of scrum-halves.

But Murray, almost certainly Ireland’s best-ever scrum-half, doesn’t pay heed to those opinions.

He believes that he’s in better physical condition now than he was when he first broke into the professional game. He senses that Ireland fans are more engaged with this version of the team than ever before and he loves that too. There is pressure there to perform and keeping proving himself, but he embraces it.

Murray hasn’t been the first-choice scrum-half for Ireland since Jamison Gibson-Park earned that status in 2021. In Munster, Murray has had to fight the ever-growing challenge from Craig Casey, who also hopes to push past him in Ireland’s pecking order.

Murray’s current IRFU central contract expires at the end of this season and the ball appears to be in Munster’s court now in terms of giving the Limerick man a deal to keep him in Irish rugby beyond the summer. There has been an expectation that the southern province will struggle to find the money for such a deal but Murray is clear in saying he wants to play on for province and country.

“Yeah, as long as you are fit and able to contribute at this international level then you want to be involved with the club and at Test level for as long as you can,” said Murray today.

“I feel great at the moment. I went back at the weekend [to play for Munster] and felt sharp and match fit. As long as they have you here, I will happily stay.”

Murray hasn’t had to look far for inspiration when it comes to playing on well into his 30s.

The recently-retired Johnny Sexton went all the way to 38.

“Johnny was incredibly professional,” said Murray. “His last game, he was 38 and he played 80 minutes against New Zealand and that shows you what can be done when you do the right things and you still have that drive.

conor-murray Murray at Ireland training today. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“That sets the bar and the standard there. 38, it would be nice to reach that level. Who knows but at the moment I feel good and really enjoying it.”

The fact that Murray was playing for Munster in their win over Scarlets last weekend is an indication that he doesn’t occupy the same position with Ireland as he once did.

He never used to go back to his province on the Six Nations down weekends, so it was a bit different hopping on buses and flights to get over to Wales for a URC game while other Ireland players had the weekend off.

Yet Murray has still had an important role with Ireland in recent seasons. He impressed during last year’s Grand Slam success, stepping up strongly in Gibson-Park’s absence. Murray has also had some big performances off the bench for Ireland under Farrell.

The 34-year-old played in all five World Cup games last year, starting once, and while he shared in the same disappointment as everyone else in the Ireland squad after their quarter-final exit, he has been enthused by how Farrell’s men have bounced back so far in this Six Nations.

“It’s been really impressive as a staff, coaches, players,” said Murray.

“We can be proud of the fact. The disappointment of the World Cup was huge, it was a huge blow given the opportunity we had over there, and teams do struggle after World Cups. It’s a bit of a trend and we can be proud that we have shaken it off and continue to grow as a group.

“What do we put it down to? Just the environment and the culture of the group. I would like to be a few years younger and starting off on the journey with Ireland because you can see where this team can go and the potential it has.

“We’re ever-growing, ever-evolving. The potential of this time is really high and getting back into camp we talk about how enjoyable and challenging it is. We reviewed the World Cup, learned from our mistakes and the appetite is there to grow the game, grow our game and keep inspiring people through our performances.

“Now, it did knock us a bit but we can be proud of how we did handle it.”

conor-murray Murray was back on Munster duty last weekend. Ashley Crowden / INPHO Ashley Crowden / INPHO / INPHO

It appears that Murray will be back in Ireland’s matchday 23 against Wales this weekend and he’ll hope for some time on the pitch with Munster team-mate Jack Crowley.

The 24-year-old out-half has settled into the number 10 shirt well in the opening rounds of the Six Nations.

“Really, really impressive,” said Murray of Crowley. “Anyone who gets the chance in that jersey since Johnny retired, and with the players who have worn it before, it comes with a lot of pressure. I‘ve been impressed with how Jack doesn’t seem to be fazed.

“There is pressure from the outside, he is putting pressure on himself, but it doesn’t really show. You can talk about his attributes as a player but he is unfazed really. After the French game we talked about how everyone had good and bad moments and Jack talked about he bounced back from a few.

“That ability to move on to the next moment – it’s a cliché thing you hear from sportspeople but if he does make a mistake he will follow it up with something really positive in the game.

“As a 10 who is leading us around the field, it is really important that he is not hanging on to anything so that mentality side of it has been really impressive for me.”

It’s a trait that has allowed Murray himself to stay at the top for so long. He’s determined to stay there for a while longer yet.

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