Murray training with Munster in Thomond Park this week. Morgan Treacy/INPHO
big game player

Quinlan delights as Conor Murray returns to Lions form

‘He’s a big scrum-half who makes a lot of tackles.’

CONOR MURRAY’S ABILITY to dictate last weekend’s thumping Six Nations win over England largely followed the same curve as the collective effort.

Eddie Jones’ men were on top early and the score was 3-3 when Ireland’s veteran scrum-half made the most uncharacteristic of errors in front of his own posts, allowing a dropping ball to bounce a metre in front of him.

From there on in, though, there was barely another moment of hesitancy from Murray or Ireland.

Keith Earls flashed through the tail of a line-out and the traffic became one-way. The scrum-half suddenly appeared back to his 2018 self, smoothly connecting passes from the base of ruck after ruck and patrolling the edges when the opposition were in possession.

“The performance on Saturday, it was sublime,” says Quinlan.

“The way he defended as well just gave Ireland so much stability around the fringes of the rucks.

“You can always look at a couple of kicks and say one or two weren’t deep enough or whatever but overall the simple things he did exceptionally well.”

While Ireland are set for a third-place finish in the Six Nations having struggled to knit their game together until England came to town, that grandstand finish will leave a lasting impression on Warren Gatland as he ponders selection for a Lions tour that is seems set to trundle on in South Africa this summer despite all external obstacles.

In Murray and Jonathan Sexton, Gatland will see a tried and tested combination who have the tools meet the world champions. So even that one performance might be enough to be front-runners for the 9 and 10 shirts.

“Especially when it’s against South Africa. He’s a big scrum-half who makes a lot of tackles,” says the former Munster blindside who will be part of Premier Sports commentary team for this weekend’s Guinness Pro14 final.

“The reality is there is no one in any of the nations jumping out. Even (Wales 9) Gareth Davies… Wales aren’t certain who their best scrum-half is either. So there is an open door there.

“Whether people agree with it or not, when you finish with a big result in the Six Nations and you perform in that big game, there is every chance that you are going to get on that plane. He put his hand up firmly at the weekend.”

The hand is up, but it has raised in no small part due to the pack effort in front of Murray. Just as it was against England, against the Springboks the forward division will determine how much room half-backs have to shine.

“Conor Murray played well at the weekend because his forwards played well at the weekend,” says Quinlan.

“It makes it so much easier. Farrell and Curry are not chasing Johnny Sexton down and harassing the life out of our half-backs because we are on the front foot, we are winning the collisions and not letting them over the gain line. We’re harassing them and that’s what they’ve done to us the last couple of years.

“I was really pleased for Conor. He is a very strong character. He was coming into the Munster squad in my last couple of years and we always knew how good this guy could be. He has had an exceptional career and there is still a lot left in him.

“You kind of feel sorry for (Jamison) Gibson-Park. Would he have excelled on the back of what the Irish forwards did? Probably.

“But Murray’s presence alone, even in the English minds, they would have preferred if he wasn’t playing.

“He is in a good place and that’s good for Munster next weekend for the Pro14 final.

“He’s not going to go on forever and these debates about Sexton and Murray will probably continue, but both of them showed at the weekend that they still have a lot to offer in terms of quality and leadership within that (Ireland) group.”

It’s not Sexton, but Carbery who Munster fans will hope to see Murray connect with fluidly tomorrow when Munster take on Leinster in the Pro14 final (kick-off 5pm eir Sport).

The pair have not played together in over a year owing to Carbery’s injury travails, but if their pack can chisel out a platform, they will relish the chance to find holes in Leinster’s defence.

Alan Quinlan will be part of Premier Sports’ team bringing live coverage of the Guinness PRO14 Final between Leinster and Munster on Saturday 27 March 2021. Tune in from 4pm on Premier Sports 1 for all the action, excitement and an hour of pre-match build-up from the RDS Arena. Premier Sports is the host broadcaster of the Guinness PRO14 showing every game live throughout the season.

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