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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 22 August, 2019

Northern exposure: Jordi Murphy relishing new challenge as he settles into Belfast life

The Irish international has hit form for his new side.

Kingspan competition winners enjoyed a coaching masterclass with Ulster Rugby Head Coach, Dan McFarland as well as star players, Louis Ludik and Jordi Murphy, above, yesterday.
Kingspan competition winners enjoyed a coaching masterclass with Ulster Rugby Head Coach, Dan McFarland as well as star players, Louis Ludik and Jordi Murphy, above, yesterday.
Image: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

IF MAKING THE move to Ulster was a difficult one for Jordi Murphy, you’d hardly know it now.

The 27-year-old made the switch from Leinster to Ulster in the summer, joining initially under the premise of working under former coach Jono Gibbes but now settling in nicely under the new ticket headed by Dan McFarland.

But all the fears that Murphy wouldn’t get acclimatised to life north of Dublin have been allayed rather quickly, with the rampaging openside flanker finding a rich vein of form recently, and more importantly, he’s playing with a smile on his face.

Maybe it’s the fact Ulster have just picked up back-to-back bonus point wins over the Scarlets, putting them firmly on track to reach the quarter-finals of the European Cup for the first time since 2014 (touch wood).

Maybe it’s the regular game time that he was so desperately searching for at Leinster that he now has at Kingspan Stadium, being involved in seven of Ulster’s games so far, including all four of their Heineken Champions Cup games.

Or maybe it’s just he’s found things are pretty good in Belfast in general.

Whatever the reason, Murphy grins when he says:  “I’m very happy at the moment.

“Coming here, I have to admit I spent little or no time in Belfast before moving up here. I’ve played here plenty of times, but that usually meant a bus journey up in the morning and then straight back down in the evening.

“I moved up here on a Sunday straight into John Cooney’s place and then I kind of realised well that’s it, I’m here for good now! I’ve really been enjoying it though – I’ve got my own place now, my girlfriend’s up and a lot of the boys are living nearby, and friends and family are up all the time because it’s only two hours to here now.

“It’s been great, not just the squad and the coaches but the general public have been fantastic and there are some great people up here. Really, really been enjoying it.”

Now he’s settled, focus turns from the off the field matters to on the field where Murphy was signed to bring another international-calibre presence to a back row lacking that bit of grunt in previous years.

His initial few months in Belfast were curtailed by a frustrating ankle injury but, once he shook that off, he hasn’t looked back.

Alongside the returning Marcell Coetzee and the No 8 tandem of Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney, he’s done just that. Murphy has slotted in as a hard-hitting, jackalling openside and is flourishing in the seven jersey.

He was rewarded for that over the autumn with Ireland, coming off the bench in that now infamous victory over the All Blacks and against Italy in Chicago, as well as playing the full 80 against the USA Eagles in the final game.

He brought that form back to Ulster too. Working with Coetzee and Reidy in the back row, ably assisted by Rory Best and Iain Henderson, the Spanish-born flanker was excellent in the European double-header against the Scarlets.

But, ever the pragmatist, Murphy isn’t in the mood to look back on previous weeks – he’s focused on the future and, in particular, Ulster’s return to PRO14 action this Friday against Munster at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm).

“It’s one of those things about backing it up,” insists the former Leinster man, making a point that seems to be drilled into the brains of every player in the squad.

“Success can be short-lived, obviously we’re coming off back-to-back wins in Europe that’s put us in a great position, but now we’ve moved onto a different competition and we don’t want to fall behind, especially in what is a very competitive conference.

“We have to back it up again this week and really put in a performance we can be proud of and look back on and say we’ve come off a really big high in Europe but we didn’t let our intensity dip in training or in our walk throughs and let that show in the game, we took a step forward and up again.”

And so, backing it up for a third week in a row means exacting a bit of revenge this weekend.

It’s only three months since Ulster were subjected to an humiliating 64-7 loss in Thomond Park – their largest ever defeat in the province’s history – and the scars still run deep after a much-changed side were taught a valuable lesson.

How much the province’s affairs have changed for the better since then. Right in the mix for a European knockout spot, tied for second in their PRO14 conference and with performances much improved, things are much rosier than after that fateful loss in Limerick.

Jordi Murphy Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Now, instead of dreading a rematch with their interprovincial rivals, Ulster are relishing the chance to right a lot of wrongs from their previous meeting, although Murphy is cautious not to attribute the word revenge to their plight.

“If we started to think that way then we mightn’t focus on the game at hand,” warns the 27-year-old, who wasn’t involved in the defeat due to the ankle injury he’d picked up a few weeks previous.

“(The defeat) is still fresh in the memory, even if some of the boys involved this week didn’t play then, it’s very much a squad effort – like I was watching it at home and I wasn’t feeling too good about myself, and I’m sure the boys out there weren’t feeling so good, so a lot of us want to put a lot of those wrongs right this week.  

“You’d be foolish not to think about it in the back of your mind though because that wasn’t a good day for the province, that wasn’t a good day for the squad, and some of the things said afterwards are out of our control, but it’s not a nice place to be.

“We get to play them at home this week in front of our home crowd, who have been fantastic in the past few weeks, especially in Europe, so I’m expecting just as good from them this week as they were last week.”

And for the 26-time capped international, it’s another first for him in an Ulster jersey this weekend, should he (as expected) be selected to play against their interprovincial rivals.

“I haven’t played in an interpro yet for Ulster,” he reminds us. “Unfortunately I was unavailable for the first two this season but I’m just really looking forward to it – there’s always a bit of added bite and venom in these games.

“I don’t know what it’s like to play for Ulster in an interpro, but I can’t imagine it’ll be far off what I’ve been involved in before, and to play bitter rivals Munster is exciting, especially after coming off a bit of a beating only a few short weeks ago.

“Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it.”

As are Ulster. Like Murphy – because of his injury – a stuttering start to the season is starting to gather a lot of momentum, and right now it seems the only way is up.

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