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'It’s down to me to keep playing well and hold on to the jersey' - Murray

The 31-year-old continues as the first-choice for Munster and Ireland.

Murray has been a key man for Munster over the past decade.
Murray has been a key man for Munster over the past decade.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

CONOR MURRAY IS well used to the questioning of his form at this stage.

He has come in for consistent scrutiny since the beginning of 2019, when Ireland’s previously world-beating form deserted them and the scrum-half himself dipped from his lofty peak.

Earlier this year, the calls for John Cooney to replace him in the number nine shirt were loud and oft-repeated. Murray saw off the challenge of the Ulster halfback and, more recently, retained his first-choice status ahead of Jamison Gibson-Park and Kieran Marmion as Cooney was left out of Andy Farrell’s autumn squad.

Having returned to Munster colours last weekend for the win over Harlequins, keeping his spot ahead of the promising Craig Casey, Murray feels he is in a good place heading towards 2021.

“I’m really happy at the moment,” says the 31-year-old. “I think that’s a great year looking back on it. You go through years when you’re flying and there’s no questions of you and potentially they’re the easier years or whatever.

“But when there’s a bit of criticism, founded or unfounded it doesn’t really matter, it tends to gather momentum these days with all sorts of stuff.

“It was a really good challenge. It was a tough challenge as well mentally and figuring out a way of how to deal with it and get the best out of yourself.

“I found ways to do that, I found people to look at my game and see how I was playing and to be honest with you it wasn’t that much off. It was just other lads were playing really well and people like to ask questions.

“You see a face there for a certain amount of time and it’s suddenly about the new guy and stuff. So that’s probably the stage I’m at now and it’s down to me to keep playing well and hold on to the jersey, whatever jersey we’re going for.”

conor-murray-tackled-by-will-evans-and-james-chisholm Murray in action against Harlequins last weekend. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The emergence of Casey has been a major positive for Munster and the 21-year-old made another good impact after replacing Murray off the bench against Harlequins last weekend.

There’s no doubt that Casey is learning from the experienced Murray but there’s also no doubt that he hopes to usurp the incumbent in the number nine shirt.

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“Whether he starts or comes onto the pitch, that’s going to be infectious for the team and give everyone a bit of a lift,” says Murray of Casey. “He’s like that 24/7, Craig, he operates like that all the time.

“It’s great to see another Limerick nine pushing through the ranks. It’s similar to Ireland at the moment, there is really good competition for the number nine shirt and, to be honest, it’s really enjoyable.

“It’s competitive, it keeps you on your toes, it makes you make sure you’re not missing a beat, that you’re all over your stuff and you come into training knowing you have a competitive day in front of you, which is really good.

“Talking about Craig on his own, it’s great to see a Limerick nine coming through and the chances I’ve had through my career, it would be nice to see him do that but not just yet!”

Murray and Casey are set to be in the number nine and 21 jerseys for Munster again this weekend as they look to win away to Clermont in a crucial Champions Cup Pool B clash.

JJ Hanrahan will continue at out-half and Murray states his belief that the Kerryman’s influence is underrated.

jj-hanrahan-with-conor-murray Hanrahan and Murray have been Munster's first-choice halfback pairing. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“He has put an awful lot of work into himself over the years,” says Murray. “First and foremost as an athlete – he is an unbelievable runner with the ball, he is a natural footballer and over the years, especially lately, he has combined that with his maturity and his decision-making and just his assertiveness in telling us what to do.

“He has got that experience behind him now, he knows how to win a game of rugby, he knows how to manage a game of rugby, he knows what to do when the pressure comes on.

“There’s some pressure moments on JJ over the years, whether it is touchline kicks or clutch moments and he has come through them, especially in the last two years. 

“I think he is a really strong player for us and doesn’t get the credit he really deserves having been there for so much. There is just that assured vibe you get off him. Having confidence in the person outside you is really important through his communication or whatever, it is really impressive lately.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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