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Munster's Conor Murray underlines his deep rugby intelligence

The scrum-half’s first-half try was exceptionally clever.

THE CONFIDENCE IN Conor Murray’s body language is quite something at the moment.

It comes across strongly on TV but to watch the Munster man in action live brings a deeper understanding of just how at ease he is.

Conor Murray celebrates after the game Murray is the key player for Munster. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Murray exudes a sense of belief and calm. While one or two challenges on his standing leg while box-kicking have understandably ruffled his feathers, the rest of the time the scrum-half has the strut of a perfectly-unruffled peacock.

Murray’s athletic capabilities feed into his confidence and we saw many good examples of his defensive excellence across his nine tackles for Munster in Saturday’s dramatic 20-19 Champions Cup quarter-final victory over Toulon.

The Limerick man’s frame is well suited to carrying the ball into contact too, which he did six times for positives gains against the French side.

His skill level is exemplary, with Murray’s passing now at an incredibly consistent level of high quality – just one negative pass in 52 efforts on Saturday – while his kicking game is always a strong point, pressuring the opposition constantly.

But what really separates Murray is that mindset of confidence and calm.

He is a complete rugby player and his moment of deep rugby intelligence in the 28th minute against Toulon was vital in Munster advancing into the semi-finals of the Champions Cup.

Murray

Click here if you cannot view the clip above

Even behind this brilliant try lies hard work.

Murray is very diligent in studying and working on the laws of the game and he often seeks out referee Johnny Lacey, who trains regularly with Munster, to discuss and work on specific areas such as the ruck.

Murray had almost certainly actively thought about or perhaps even acted out this kind of scenario before this moment unfolded.

It’s a truly rare picture on a rugby pitch and that’s certainly why it took a full seven minutes from Murray dotting the ball down to referee Nigel Owens correctly awarding the try following an extensive review with the television match official, Jon Mason.

So what exactly happens?

Toulon have recovered to gather an excellent Ian Keatley grubber kick after Jack O’Donoghue’s superb linebreak from a lineout, and the French side have a ruck a metre out from their tryline.

1

The ball is still in the ruck in the moment above, Toulon having cleared out after a close-in carry just after they claim Keatley’s kick.

Murray is part of the defensive line, in the pillar position to the right of Munster’s defensive ruck.

2

Murray must remain behind the ruck, which forms the offside line.

Specifically, the lawbook states that the offside line “runs parallel to the goal line through the ruck participants’ hindmost foot” [Law 15.4].

4

The wider angle above gives us a better view and shows us that Murray is – just – onside as he lines up where team-mate Rhys Marshall’s foot is poking out of the ruck.

Toulon hooker Guilhem Guirado is over the ball and he decides to scoop it up with one hand, readying himself to carry to the right of the ruck.

3

As soon as Guirado picks the ball up in the moment above, the ruck is over.

The ruck ending means that the offside line no longer applies, of course, and entitles Murray and his team-mates to come forward.

The lawbook states that a “ruck ends and play continues when the ball leaves the ruck” [Law 15.18] and Guirado picking the ball up here fulfills that criteria.

While it’s now clear that he was looking to carry the ball, some might have argued that Guirado might have been simply repositioning the ball at the back of the ruck, but it’s worth noting that referees have clamped down on that kind of play drastically this season.

It’s been particularly noticeable, for example, that scrum-halves have been using their feet to repositioning the ball in rucks before box kicks – a direct result of instructions from referees not to handle the ball in the ruck.

5

Guirado drops the ball almost immediately after picking it up, and it’s irrelevant here if it actually was knocked-on.

It’s entirely understandable that the match officials would consider that in their TMO review – this being such a unique situation in a rugby game – but even if it hadn’t gone forward, Murray’s try would have been entirely legal.

So even though Guirado looks to control the ball with his feet after it bounces, seemingly hoping to trick the match officials and Munster’s defence, this ball is now in open play.

6

Murray is, therefore, entirely within his rights to burst around what is no longer a ruck.

His brain is working fast here, recognising a situation that he or anyone else hasn’t really seen very often before.

Murray pauses briefly on his way to the ball, indicating to Owens that Guirado has lost the ball forward…

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… before he stoops in to pick it up from beneath Guirado…

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… and touches it down beyond the tryline and under the nose of his stunned opposite number, Eric Escande.

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Utter confusion instantly reigns around Thomond Park as Owens sounds his whistle to consider matters, but Murray is insistent.

“It’s out, there’s no ruck once he picks it up,” declares Murray.

“Time out, time out, please,” says Owens as the review gets underway.

Owens asks for checks a possible knock-on from Andrew Conway before Toulon regather the ball, whether Guirado had played the ball out of the ruck, whether Murray was onside before that, and whether Murray touched it down.

Peter O’Mahony then approaches Owens and asks, “What point are you checking, just out of curiosity?”

Owens: “I’m checking, first of all, whether it’s a knock-on from your chase through, then I’m checking if the ball was out. If Murray was onside…”

O’Mahony cuts in: “Try.”

Owens: “If he was onside before the ball came out… I want to check.”

The TMO review is lengthy, but even as it begins, Murray is already way back downfield.

10

As calm and collected as ever, and confident that he has scored a legitimate try, Murray is already preparing himself for the next play.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan said last week that his side would need to “win the big moments” and “be smart” if they were to beat Toulon.

That’s exactly what Murray did to help his side into the semi-finals of Europe.

– First published 13.32, 3 April

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