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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 15 July, 2020

Barbarian days a welcome change of pace and set Jordi Murphy up for Fiji

The Leinster man is back on the international scene for the first time since Chicago.

THERE WASN’T MUCH bittersweet about Ireland’s win over the All Blacks in Chicago last November.

Jordi Murphy was just about it.

Ireland’s Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Leinster flanker was Joe Schmidt’s starting openside for the first Test of last season. An exemplary operator at set-piece, he even managed to grab a try — soon to be overshadowed in everyone’s memory by four further tries  — before an ACL injury scuppered his match, his series and his season after just 26 minutes.

“It took me a couple of weeks to get my head around it, but looking back now, I can only look at it positively, I can only look back on being a part of a great bit of Irish rugby history. And I suppose I got to play 25 minutes,” says Murphy cheerily.

He has every right to smile too, given that tomorrow will bring his first Test appearance since that fateful day when painkillers and the joy of a historical landmark helped him celebrate on Soldier Field.

“I’d been looked after well by docs inside, I wasn’t feeling much pain, it was great when Robbie went over in the corner, and you knew we were that score ahead and you thought ‘we can do it now’.

“I was under the stand watching it, they scored two quick tries in succession… they’re never out of a game completely. I just snuck out for last five or 10 minutes and got to see Robbie score in the corner. I managed to jump up, but I wasn’t feeling the knee at that time.”

That Murphy is able to come from outside the November squad to inside a starting jersey in the space of a week speaks to the terrific depth Ireland can boast in their back row stocks. In so many other positions, replacing front-line players looks like such a tall order. Yet in the back row, even the absences of Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Peter O’Mahony have been ridden through with relative calm in recent years.

In Chicago, Josh van der Flier was the beneficiary of Murphy’s season-ending injury. Last week, the knocks sustained by Dan Leavy and Tommy O’Donnell prompted Schmidt to pick up the phone to Murphy and tell him to report for duty in Carton House come Sunday night.

Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy Captain Rhys Ruddock and Murphy will both win their 18th cap this weekend. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Since the injury, Murphy says he is “trying to enjoy every day as much as I can” but quickly adds that his daily routine now also includes a constant effort to prehab his body to limit any further knocks that might come his way.

That sense of durability undoubtedly had a role to play in setting him up to  play alongside Vince Aso, Simone Favaro, John Muldoon and Donncha O’Callaghan for the Barbarians this day last week.

In the era of tight player management controls, 80 minutes in a wet BaaBaas jersey may not sound like the perfect preparation to set Murphy up for a late call into Ireland camp, but the experience was a welcome change of pace as Murphy embraced a level of preparation he hasn’t dipped to since Blackrock U20s.

“It’s just great to play with guys from the southern hemisphere, and with some who are up in Japan. I was asking Ruan Smith, one of the boys, two days before the game: ‘this is so strange for me, it’s so relaxed’.

Willie Britz and Jordi Murphy with Kali Hala and Cooper Vuna Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We had maybe two or three moves and we were trying to come up with funny penalty moves and things, and we had four line-outs that we could call on the day and he was just saying it’s one of those things, it’s no pressure rugby but when you come you have to turn up.

“It’s the Barbarians at the end of the day and nobody wants to lose in that jersey, so it’s one of those things, very relaxed at the start of the week and then it starts toning up and toning up, and when you get the opportunity you just have to bring it.”

I’d be lying if I said the BaaBaas wasn’t more craic. It was an interesting week. That’s all I’ll say.”

“It’s been a strange two weeks. Very different environments, definitely. I just got a call on the Monday from Joe saying Robbie Deans was on looking for a back row so I put my hand up straight away. I had the week off so I said I’d love to.

“I went down and there was some very interesting characters. The weather at the end of the week obviously wasn’t ideal to play some champagne BaaBaas rugby, but it was a good experience and I’d always dreamed of playing for the Barbarians growing up, so it was great to get my opportunity.”

Another new piece of memorabilia for the wall, but now it’s time to pick up where he left off for Ireland.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Sean Farrell

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