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'It's not until you play a game, take a few belts...' Conor Murray putting neck injury behind him

The Munster and Ireland 9 found it tough missing out on November, but feels fitter and stronger for going the extra mile in rehab.

MUNSTER FANS HAD to wait six months between Conor Murray appearances in red. But rest assured, it was time well spent.

His Thomond Park comeback game on Sunday, his third appearance since returning from a neck injury, was not perfect. Yet in many ways, the feisty duel he was drawn into by opposite number Ludovic Radosavljevic was just what the doctor ordered.

Rugby is a collision sport. And as a physically imposing scrum-half, one who is targeted as a key man by opponents, Murray can never expect to get through a match untouched.

Conor Murray with Thibault Lassalle Murray gets past Lassalle. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Preparing to return to the field five months after his last run in the firing line in Australia, the Patrickswell man admits it was a challenge to switch his mindset back into combative mode. Understandable when so much work has been put in to look after his neck complaint. Asked whether he found it easy to block out his issue when re-entering the fray, Murray said:

“No, it’s not.

I think you rep it as much as you can in training and go through that physical contact and that tackle entry. It’s not until you play a game and you take a few belts without thinking about it and then you come through it and you get up and you’re fine.

“It’s not like a hamstring tear. It is your neck and it surprises you having that awareness of it. But we took the amount of time that was absolutely necessary to get it fully right.

“It’s fully right now, thankfully. It’s something I have to keep on top of in terms of prehab and stuff like that. It feels good now, thankfully.”

The work is clearly paying off. Though the 29-year-old showed what may have been signs of rust – or perhaps they were signs of a slick, wet ball on a bitterly cold day – in the first half of the 30-5 win over Castres, the second half saw him pull free of the skirmish and show all his class to inspire two breakthrough tries.

There was certainly no sign of him taking a tentative or cautious approach to contact in those instances. First he ran to the blindside of a five metre ruck and occupied 118 kilo lock Thibault Lassalle before offloading to Rory Scannell. Then came a beautiful back-hand offload after a gliding arced run to set CJ Stander away.

“No. You can’t,” he says definitively when asked whether he considered adapting his game to account for his injury. That extended time on the sideline was used to make certain that there would be no half measures, no compromises.

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Conor Murray Murray in training at UL yesterday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There must have been some temptation to argue his way back onto the field in time to face New Zealand – indeed, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt suggested that it was up to Murray whether he wanted to play against the All Blacks -  had it been a hamstring, he may well have flung caution at the wind.

The neck is a whole other story.

 ”I suppose you could have pushed (to get back playing earlier) and then you get a bang and it sets you back even more.

“While it was tough and frustrating to watch the lads playing in November. With the big win against the All Blacks as well, that’s tough viewing. Obviously, I was delighted for the lads, but ask any player who could have potentially been involved, it is tough to see too.

Conor Murray Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

At the end of the day, getting my neck right was much bigger than that, personally for me. I’m glad I took the time. I’m glad I feel great now.”

“The body feels brilliant. The Castres game, personally and as a whole, there were good moments and there were sloppy moments too.

“I feel good. It’s just adjusting to… not so much the pace, but pressurised rugby. I think the Castres game was stop-start. It was a bit sloppy from both sides so you didn’t learn a whole lot about your match fitness. But I feel great at the moment.”

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Sean Farrell

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