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The emerging stars of the 2019/20 season: Niall Murray

The 20-year-old second row has featured for Connacht in the Pro14 and Champions Cup.

FOR EARLIER PIECES on some of the young players who showed their promise in senior rugby in the 2019/20 season, click here.

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Another of last year’s Grand Slam-winning Ireland U20s, second row Niall Murray is one of the two Connacht academy players to get senior game time this season – back row Sean Masterson being the other.

6ft 7ins Murray is still only 20 but already has two senior starts under his belt, having initially made his Connacht debut off the bench in their Champions Cup win over Gloucester in December. 

niall-murray-wins-a-line-out-14122019 Murray wins a lineout on his Connacht debut. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Murray made another replacement appearance in the Pro14 against Ulster before starting the heavy defeat away to Leinster in January and a beating at the hands of Edinburgh in February, as well as coming off the bench away to Montpellier in their Champions Cup clash in January.

The Roscommon man will have learned valuable and lasting lessons in each of those appearances, getting a far better sense of what professional rugby is about after his rise through the province’s pathway.

A handy soccer player in his youth, the athletic Murray also played football up to Roscommon minor level, with his height, mobility, and engine helping him to excel in those sports too.

A former student of St Aloysius College, Murray only properly started playing rugby as a 15-year-old with Buccaneers RFC but was quickly onto the Connacht representative ladder as he played up through the age grades for his province. 

Having already featured for Ireland at U18 Clubs level, Murray underlined his talent on a broader scale with his excellent performances for the U20s last year, starting all five games of the Grand Slam in the second row.

He had to settle for five sub appearances at last summer’s Junior World Championship in Argentina but still managed to show the potential that Connacht believe will make him a highly-effective professional second row for years to come.

niall-murray-and-john-hodnett-celebrate-after-the-game Murray with John Hodnett after the Ireland U20s' Grand Slam last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Murray’s younger brother, Darragh, was Connacht’s U18 player of the year in 2018 – which Niall won in 2017 – so there are good genes in the family.

Murray clearly has the height for the second row but, at just over 100kg, naturally still has plenty of physical development ahead – like any 20-year-old. The strength and mass that come with time and effort will help him to round out his game, allowing him to bring more momentum into his clearouts, carries, tackles, and maul work.

Murray is a fine lineout operator, winning some clean ball for Connacht in his five appearances this season but also stealing two opposition throws thanks to his ability to read and his dynamic jumping.

His defensive work has been good with a tackle completion rate of over 90% and while he understandably hasn’t been able to bring a huge amount of impact in the carry, that side of his game will only continue to develop. The aforementioned athleticism and engine mean he is well able to get around the pitch at pace.

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Like most young players breaking through in Irish rugby now, Murray is comfortable handling the ball and playing in a team that looks attack with width. 

As a lock, his duties will always focus on the set-piece and ruck too, of course.

niall-murray-dejected-after-the-game Murray will look to push on again next season. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Importantly, the likes of Quinn Roux, Ultan Dillane, and Gavin Thornbury can provide elements of mentorship to Murray in the second row, guiding him as he up-skills in his nuts-and-bolts second row play.

Forwards coach Jimmy Duffy also has a strong track record of improving young players and has previously helped the likes of Dillane and Roux to vastly grow their understanding of the lineout.

With the hope being that Connacht and everyone else can return to collective training sooner rather than later, Murray is one of the young players the province hope to see taking more exciting steps forward next season.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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