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Murray: Playing with ROG, Wally, Hayes and Fla at Munster was huge for me

Ireland’s scrum-half recalls being flung into the international arena for the last World Cup.

TADHG FURLONG PLAYS the role of the bolter in this year’s Ireland World Cup squad, but Conor Murray’s rapid rise to international honours in 2011 was even more impressive.

After just eight senior starts with Munster at the end of the 2010/11 season, the scrum-half found himself flung into the Ireland squad for the World Cup warm-ups and went on to emerge from the New Zealand-hosted tournament as Ireland’s first-choice nine.

Conor Murray Murray celebrates after an Ireland win at RWC2011. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Murray approaches this year’s competition in a totally different place, with a Lions tour and 37 Ireland caps behind him, but memories of that first foray into the international arena in 2011 remain strong.

Typically of the Limerick man, he never viewed his involvement under then head coach Declan Kidney as serving to make up the numbers.

“You have a different mindset looking back on it now,” says Murray, who took a blow to the head against England last weekend but will be back in full training with Ireland on Monday after completing his return-to-play protocols.

“Those few games with Munster were huge for my confidence, because I was playing with ROG, I was playing with Paulie, Wally, Marcus, Fla, Hayes. All these players were big names in the Irish team.

I knew that if I could play with those guys at Munster and play well, there was no reason I couldn’t go to Irish camp and do the same thing. That was really important for me.”

After impressing off the bench against England and France in the warm-ups, Murray was promoted to starting scrum-half for the first time for Ireland’s World Cup opener against the US, before slotting back among the replacements for the famous win over Australia.

There was delight at being involved in that win of course, but the former St. Munchin’s student couldn’t accept not being in the XV. After being rested for the facile win over Russia, Murray was back in the nine shirt for Ireland’s last two games of their World Cup.

Conor Murray Conor Murray is an ambassador for MaxiNutrition. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The Italian game made me fall in love with it,” says Murray as he skips down memory lane. “Indoor in Dunedin, it sounded so cool. It was a mix of fans who always watch the game and those who probably only get into it for the World Cup.

“They were singing Olé, Olé, more a soccer song but they were chanting that. Fields of Athenry. Just constant noise throughout the whole game and we were winning and scoring. It was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever played in. I wanted more of that.”

Murray has certainly enjoyed plenty more of those big occasions with Munster, Ireland and the Lions, but says the chance to play in another World Cup is the ultimate high.

The 26-year-old is strikingly composed on and off the pitch and always has been, seemingly relishing the pressure and responsibility that comes with being asked to step up a level.

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From the time he was playing one age grade above his actual date of birth as a schoolboy, to bursting into the 2011 World Cup squad, to playing Tests on the 2013 Lions tour despite the presence of more fancied scrum-halves, he has always risen to the occasion.

“You say pressure, and there is pressure, but I like it” says Murray. “It’s the same in every sport and any big game. Not that I don’t enjoy playing in, for argument’s sake, a half full Musgrave Park against the Dragons – I do enjoy that.

“But the excitement around, say, 80,000 people in the Millennium Stadium, all that noise. I just love that build up and getting to play on that huge stage.  There’s the pressure you put on yourself to play well in those situations, but the bigger the games the better. They’re more enjoyable.”

Conor Murray Murray was replaced in the first half of last weekend's defeat to England. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There was “a little bit of fear” for Murray when he injured his knee late last season, while being replaced against England after his latest blow to the head was not ideal, but he has confidence in his physical condition for Ireland’s assault on the World Cup.

Defeats to England and Wales in the last two weeks have tempered expectations somewhat, but the belief within this group of players is strong.

As back-to-back Six Nations champions, Murray feels there is no reason why Ireland should pretend they are not travelling to win.

“The ultimate aim is to win it,” says Murray.

I love the fact that we’re one of the first Irish teams, even during the Six Nations after we won it in 2014, why shouldn’t we say we want to win it again? The players usually shut it down, but we wanted to defend that Six Nations.

“I know you can say you want to win, then lose, and people say ‘Ah you thought you were going to win,’ but I don’t see any negative in it really. We’re a confident team, I don’t think we’re a cocky team. We work extremely hard.

“Under Joe since he came in, the way he presents things to you and says how you can play, shows you how good we’ve been in past games. Our results have been good, but we understand how hard we had to work for them.

“We’re a hard-working team and a confident team. Going and trying to win the competition, I don’t see why we should shirk away from that.”

Ireland’s leading sports nutrition brand, MaxiNutrition, is fuelling Conor Murray to be at his best. Conor uses MaxiNutrition’s promax protein milk and bars to enable him to maximise his training. Visit www.maxinutrition.com for more information.

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Murray Kinsella

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