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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 18 April 2021

'If versatility gets you a ticket to go over, then I'm happy to offer that'

Jordi Murphy starts at number eight against Italy tomorrow.

THREE INTO ONE doesn’t quite go, as Jordi Murphy well knows. It’s all a numbers game at this stage, no more so than in the back row where the battle for places is as intense as any other position in the squad.

Although nailing down the openside berth at Ulster during his first season up north, Murphy gets his shot at number eight against Italy tomorrow, fully aware his versatility may ultimately punch his ticket to Japan.

Jordi Murphy Jordi Murphy at Carton House this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier are locked in, that leaves Joe Schmidt to choose one more from Murphy, Rhys Ruddock and Tommy O’Donnell, although the selection of Tadhg Beirne as back row cover for the Azzurri audition adds another layer of intrigue. 

Either way, Murphy is focused on the task at hand. The 28-year-old starts on Saturday afternoon knowing there is now little margin for error, and that he needs a much better performance at the back of the scrum than he produced against Italy in Rome back in March. 

“It obviously gets talked about among the lads and stuff but it doesn’t get talked about in meetings or anything,” he says. “It’s obvious enough, there are only 31 places and we have a tight-knit squad anyway.

“Unfortunately, some people are going to get disappointed but it’s just about putting your hand up for any opportunity you get and fingers crossed we can do enough and get ourselves over there.”

With Ruddock skippering the side at six and Munster’s O’Donnell set for his first cap since 2016 at openside, Murphy is again deployed at number eight, in what will be just his seventh Test appearance in that position.

Offering that versatility, he acknowledges, can only be an advantage in the context of World Cup selection.

“It’s great to have the versatility on my side so hopefully I can impress this weekend and if I get another opportunity in the weeks to come, I might get to play somewhere else as well,” Murphy continues.

“If that’s what they want from me, versatility, and it gets you a ticket to go over, then I’m happy to be able to offer that. Like Joe said to me there the last day, he knows I’ve been playing at seven a lot this season but when I’d be playing at eight this weekend, my answer to that was: I just want to play. 

“I’ve played a lot of professional rugby games now and a lot of them have been at eight. At the start of my career a bit more. It’s definitely something I always tip away at, maybe not as much this year when I was playing for Ulster because I was playing a lot at seven.

Jordi Murphy The Ulster back row during Friday's captain's run. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“In the last few weeks, I’ve had my eye set on this game and I had a feeling I was going to be playing eight so I’ve been working on that definitely. Doing a relationship with the nine and things like that.”

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Murphy started two games at the last World Cup, including the quarter-final defeat to Argentina. 

He reflects: “Maybe I’m more emotionally mature this summer. I think I looked after myself a bit better knowing it’s a really big opportunity.

“I was lucky enough to go to the last one and to be in a position now to, fingers crossed, try and get to a second one. I’m just looking after myself better off the pitch and just focusing the mind on what is a big pre-season.”

That all starts tomorrow at 2pm. 

“What I can do is just play to the best of my ability and just try to fit in as well as I can in the team,” Murphy adds.

“If we can all do that together then we’ll put in a good performance and that will stand to all of us. Someone during the week said, there’s no point in trying to be like a hero.

“These games are big and you want to put your best foot forward but if you do your best to try and fit in with the team, that will drive us forward and that’s what the coaches are looking for.”

The42 Rugby Weekly is back as we get ready for next month’s World Cup. Murray, Gavan and Bernard Jackman get us started by looking ahead to this weekend’s opening warm-up game against Italy.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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