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'He's just incredible' - Murray the main man for Munster ahead of France trip

The Ireland international is vital for the southern province this weekend against Racing 92.

IS THERE A player as important to their team in Europe as Conor Murray is to Munster?

That the scrum-half just keeps on delivering big moments for his province suggests not.

His latest acts were scoring against the Cheetahs last weekend with his second touch of the ball after coming off the bench and then later popping over the victory-clinching penalty from inside his own half.

Conor Murray celebrates his side's penalty just before the final whistle Murray celebrates Munster's win over the Cheetahs. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Rewind to Munster’s Champions Cup quarter-final win over Toulon and it was his devilishly intelligent score under the noses of the French team that went a long way towards helping Munster to win.

The Ireland international’s calming influence is hugely important to Munster too and although rugby is very much a team game, it’s clear that Murray is the main man as they prepare for this weekend’s trip to France for the semi-final against Racing 92.

“I’ve always thought he was a great player,” said Munster head coach Johann van Graan, who had previously analysed Murray’s play during his time as an assistant coach for the Springboks.

“He just delivers every single week. There was never any doubt when I came here. When South Africa played against him, we knew what a quality player he is.

“He’s just incredible. I think his biggest asset is maybe his decision-making, he seems to make them in slow motion and he seems to make the right one time after time.

“Also, when he’s on the field he brings a lot of calm to the team and I thought he did really well when he came off the bench at the weekend.

“I also thought James Hart had a very good two weeks [in South Africa]. With Duncan [Williams] injured, I thought he really stepped up to the plate, so we’re really glad to have a bit of depth at nine now.”

Building a team around a scrum-half is something that has certainly happened in South African rugby, where the likes of Joost van der Westhuizen, Fourie du Preez and Ruan Pienaar have been the key tactical leaders for various teams, and Murray’s kicking, controlling, carrying and decision-making strengths make him a similar figure.

Keith Earls, Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony Keith Earls and Peter O'Mahony get to grips with Murray at Munster training yesterday. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Racing will be focusing intently on the Munster scrum-half this week, which may open opportunities for others.

Other teams have attempted to leave their mark on Murray physically by hitting him late after his kicks or passes, but van Graan feels the Limerick man is more than capable of dealing with any such tactics.

“I think your whole team have to be aware of the opposition nine and 10,” says van Graan. “I guess the opposition will be aware of Conor as well.

“I think Keats [Ian Keatley] also poses quite a threat to the gainline. If Rory Scannell and JJ Hanrahan and Zeebs [Simon Zebo] come into second receiver, we are posing different questions on attack.

“Obviously, Conor will be a man-marked by the opposition but that’s not new to him. Every team in the world will give him special attention.

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“Like I said, it doesn’t seem to faze him. He’s just one of our players and he poses a threat and, hopefully, he’ll have a good game on Sunday.”

Others like Andrew Conway, Zebo and the possibly-fit-again Keith Earls are more than capable of creating match-winning moments, but Murray will surely have a major say for Munster again.

“With Conor, he’s got such a wide array of skills,” says van Graan. “It’s not only his running, or his kicking, or his passing game; it’s his decision-making.

“He seems to produce week in and week out. When he came on to the field and scored that try [against the Cheetahs], he’s a threat everywhere. You use your world-class players as best you can.”

Gerbrandt Grobler celebrates as Referee Nigel Owens blows the final whistle Gerbrandt Grobler has been impressive for Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Another man who impressed on Munster’s tour of South Africa was second row Gerbrandt Grobler, who was back on home soil.

The 26-year-old was at the centre of a storm over his previous doping ban when he recovered from an ankle injury to make his senior Munster debut in February.

Grobler is understood to have endured a tough time personally during that furore, but he has been largely excellent in his six Pro14 appearances since, while he also made a Champions Cup debut off the bench late on against Toulon.

While it seems unlikely that he will break up the excellent Jean Kleyn-Billy Holland second row partnership this weekend, his form has certainly put him in the mix.

“I think we’ve got four fantastic locks,” said van Graan when asked about Grobler’s form. “Firstly to speak about JK and Billy, I think they have performed admirably over most parts of the game.

“Gerbrandt has played two 80 minutes now, I think the more he plays after his injury, the better he will become. So we’ll see later in the week what we’ll select and what players we’re going to go with. If he is selected, I think he brings a lot.

“His offloading game, I thought he carried quite well and I thought defensively he played quite well. If selected, I’m sure he’ll make a difference.”

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