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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 14 December, 2018
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Munster the immediate winners from Murray deal, with long-term dividend for Ireland

The southern province can build all future plans around the world class scrum-half.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THESE THINGS ONLY get messy when they drag on, so the premium the IRFU paid to commit Conor Murray to these shores before a Test or European ball is kicked this season is well worth it.

A new three-year contract announced this morning not only strengthens the make-up of Ireland and Munster teams until 2022, but it removes the potential for enormous distraction as Joe Schmidt’s team home in the task awaiting them in Japan 2019.

Naturally, the world’s best scrum-half was a valuable commodity for the cash-rich clubs dotted around France. And the lure to sample a new environment after Murray hits his 30th birthday next year would have been wholly understandable. The veil over this latest  injury notwithstanding, the reported €800,000 salary on the table – a figure making him the highest paid player in the land – from the IRFU was equally justifiable.

While the prospect of Murray and Jonathan Sexton continuing to combine in green beyond 2019 is exciting, Ireland, four years out from the 2023 World Cup, could have been able to stomach doing without their star nine for a year or two. And the non-existence of an overseas policy could potentially have allowed Murray squeeze through the same Test Lion loophole that Sexton did.

It is Munster who should feel the greatest boost from this contract. On the back of losing Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo to Racing 92, another flight could have shaken confidence in the southern province to the core.

Conor Murray Multi-skilled: Murray has shown his mettle to kick vital penalties on big occasions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Instead, appetites can remain whetted at the prospect of Murray returning to fitness and combining with Joey Carbery – who has already divulged evidence that he is the spark to set off Munster’s attack.

With the Athy man’s fluid running and game-breaking passing, and Murray’s unrivalled ability to dictate and direct from behind a ruck, Munster will have a half-back combination to rival anyone in Europe. And with Sexton hitting 34 before the World Cup, the provincial partnership will become more regular at Test level.

Without Murray, Munster made a good fist of arguing that the gap between them Leinster is narrower than you might expect at the Aviva Stadium last weekend. His insistence on privacy around his medical information means it is unclear when exactly he will be cleared to play in red or green, but consider a Munster side entering the New Year – when a trip to Gloucester and home clash with Exeter await – with Murray, Tyler Bleyendaal and Chris Farrell available resources for Johann van Graan. Game-breakers everywhere.

Tyler Bleyendaal and Conor Murray Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Murray, for his part, was upbeat about his injury status as well as his contract when speaking in an in-house interview for Munster today:

Back on the pitch, training with the lads. Hopefully sooner rather than later I’ll be able to put on the jersey again.”

Soon like the November Tests, or soon like Gloucester at home, would be ideal.

But the important thing is that Murray is set to remain safely under the IRFU’s player management umbrella until 2022. The intangible value the union offers players in terms of well-being and longevity remains their trump card.

The striking thing when watching the Patrickswell man in the flesh is always how easily how crosses the turf, almost gliding at pace from ruck to ruck with minimal visible effort.

Used wisely and managed well, it is easy to picture a 33-year-old Murray still dictating Test matches for Ireland in 2022. And the World Cup will only be a year away then too.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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